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Introduction page ^ 


CA. I. The Problem Stated. Some General 

Conclusions ig 

II. The Ethics of Socrate* and Plato 42 

III. Plato's Political Theory 67 

IV. The Moral and Political Theory of 

Aristotle 86 

Introduction to Parts II and III. THE SPLIT 126 

* CA. V. The Scope of Ethics 145 

VI. Objective Intuitionism. Butler and Kant 175 

* VII. The Problem of Free Will 226 

VIII. Nature of the Moral Faculty. Criticism 

of Objective Intuitionism 279 

IX. Objective Utilitarianism. Sidgwick, Ben- 

tham, John Stuart Mill 314 


to find man's raison fftre in the next world rather than in 
this one, and locating his spiritual home in the city of 
God rather than in the city-state, had from the first 
introduced a distinction. This distinction became under 
the influence of Protestantism a division, so that by the 
time the Reformation had run its course, we find that we 
have on our hands what are in effect two distinct sub- 
jects, ethics and politics. Ethics discusses such matters as 
the meaning of the words good and bad, the criterion of 
right action, and the nature and source of moral obliga- 
tion. Is there, it asks, one good, or are there many? Are 
right and wrong fundamental and independent principles 
in the universe, or merely the names which we give to the 
objects of our approval and disapproval? Is a right action 
one which is approved of by a moral sense, or one which 
proceeds from a free, moral will, or merely one which has 
the best possible consequences? If the latter, what do we 
mean by "best possible consequences"? These questions, 
which form the subject matter of ethics, will be set out in 
greater detail at the. beginning of Chapter V. For the 
present, it is sufficient to point out that, though they are 
obviously interdependent it is, for example, difficult to 
answer the question, what do I mean by saying that so 
and so is good?, without also implying an answer to the 
question, what is the criterion of right action? For if we hold 
that the word " good " means something, a right action must, 
presumably, be one which promotes that which is good 
they do not directly involve any reference to political 
questions. Questions which relate to the nature and the 
source of moral obligation for example, what is the 
meaning of the word "ought", and what the source of 
its authority can be, and historically have been, discussed 
without any reference to the principles which underlie 
that form of human association which we call society, and 
writers of bodes on moral philosophy Shaftesbury and 
Butler in the eighteenth century, Martineau in the nine- 
teenth, and G. E. Moore in the twentieth have not thought 
it necessary to enrich the conclusions of their ethical 


theorising with a discussion of their social and political 
implications. Part II treats, then, of ethics as an isolated 
branch of enquiry from which, so far as possible, all 
reference to politics is excluded. 

Political Questions. Similarly, during the period of 
three hundred years between the end of the Renaissance 
and the nineteenth century, a number of writers were 
treating of politics in more or less complete isolation from 
ethics. What, they asked, is the origin of society, and from 
what human needs does it spring? What are the principles 
which underlie it? What, in the light of these principles, 
is the best form of human society? Is it, for example, to be 
found in the rule of one, autocracy; in the rule of a few, 
aristocracy; or in the rule of all through their elected 
representatives, democracy? If it is to be found in the rule 
of the few, by reference to what qualifications should the 
few be selected? If in the rule of all, by what methods are 
the representatives of all to be chosen, and how far is it 
either wise or possible for all to delegate their authority to 
their representatives? Unless they delegate a substantial 
amount, the representatives cannot, it is obvious, act 
with the promptitude and assurance that effective govern- 
ment demands. If they do delegate a substantial amount, 
what guarantee have they that the representatives will not 
abuse their authority? Is there in a community with 
reference to every concrete situation a right or best thing to 
be done, apart from what any person or body of persons 
wishes to be done, or thinks ought to be done? What rights 
has the individual in relation to the State, and what are 
the limits of the authority of the State over the individual? 
Can the State, be said to possess any authority except 
such as is derived from the individuals who compose it; 
or any rights other than those which they confer upon it 
by consenting to belong to it? Why, in the last resort, 
should the individual obey the state and co-operate in 
running it? As in the case of the ethical questions, these 
political questions have been discussed, as if they belonged 


to a separate and distinct branch of enquiry. They were 
so discussed by Hobbcs and Locke and Rousseau in the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, by Hegel, Marx 
and Herbert Spencer in the nineteenth century. An 
account of these discussions will be found in Part III, 
where some of the more important theories which have 
been propounded in answer to these questions are sum* 

At this point I feel constrained to introduce a word of 
defence against anticipated criticism. 

Defence of Scheme. The separation of ethics from 
politics in Parts II and HI is for the purposes of exposition 
only. I am fully aware that the issues raised by these two 
branches of enquiry cannot be satisfactorily discussed in 
isolation. I am also aware that some of the writers whom 
I am proposing to assign to the one branch or to the other, 
treating them purely as writers on ethical or as writers 
upon political questions, did in fact pursue both: that 
Hume and Kant, for example, who appear in Part II, 
wrote on politics, T. H. Green and F. H. Bradley, whose 
views are discussed in Part III, on ethics. I urge in my 
defence that I am not writing a history, and that I am not 
seeking to be comprehensive: My concern is with the 
direction and divisions of human thought rather than 
with the history of its thinkers. My approach is logical 
rather than chronological. What I have sought to do is 
to present a number of theories which have been actually 
entertained by European thinkers upon a confused and 
ill-defined subject, or rather upon a pair of interlocking 
subjects, in the clearest and simplest form of arrange- 
ment which the nature of the subject matter permits. As 
to the names of those who, in the course of history, advanced 
the theories, I introduce them only when it is convenient 
to affix labels, or when a knowledge of the time and 
circumstances in which a particular theory was enter* 
tained may be held to contribute to an understanding of 
that which it asserts. Such a mode of treatment not only 


permits, but requires a framework within which to arrange 
the multitudinous material, and it is precisely such a frame* 
work that the scheme I propose provides. 

dosing of the Split: The Twentieth Century. In 
the twentieth century the streams have come together 
again. Their confluence is, indeed, one of the most dis- 
tinctive features of the thought of our time. That ethics 
and politics are by their very nature inextricably inter- 
woven must, I think, be conceded. It follows that the 
pursuit of either in isolation is apt to be unprofitable, 
and to yield results which are incapable of fruitful applica- 
tion. To this extent the twentieth century is in the right of 
it. At the same time, it is permissible to wonder whether 
contemporary thought in returning to the Greek stand- 
point, which insists upon their fusion, has not shown a 
tendency to adopt its perversion rather than its truth. That 
the good life for man cannot be realized apart from society 
is no doubt true, but that the good life for man can be 
realized only as a part of the good of society is a palpable 
falsehood, leading to those monstrosities of modern think- 
ing which treat the individual only as a means to the well- 
being of the State. 

That Hegel was right in supposing that "the existence 
of the State is the movement of God in the world. It is 
the ultimate power on earth; it is its own end and object. 
It is the ultimate end which has absolute rights against 
the individual": or Mussolini, in asserting that "the State 
is an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals 
or groups are relative only to be conceived of in their 
relation to the State"; or that "justice and Hitler's will 
are one and the same" these things I do not believe. 

The Individual as an End in Himself. In opposition 
to the view which finds its appropriate expression in such 
announcements, I should like at the outset to put on 
redbrd my own, which is that the individual is an end 1 
in himself; that he is, indeed, the only thing which is an 


end in itself; that the State is nothing apart from the 
individuak who compose it; that it has no value except 
such as is realized in their lives; and that its raison d'ftor* 
is the establishment of those conditions, mental and 
spiritual as well as physical, in which individuals can 
develop their personalities and achieve such happiness as 
belongs to their natures. If, then, we are to speak at all of 
"the good of the State" and the expression, harmless in 
itself, is one in which the experience of the last twenty 
years should have taught us to see danger we should 
never do so without reminding ourselves that the State's 
good is entirely dependent on, that it is entirely constituted 
by, the quality and happiness of the lives of the individuals 
who are members of it. 

It is not my intention in the pages that follow to advocate 
any particular view of ethics or politics. My concern will 
be to expound the views of others, not to air my own. 2 . 
It is as well, however, that the reader should know at the 
outset what these are in order that he may be in a position 
to discount any bias into which they may betray me. 

The Author's Own Standpoint. I confess myself, 
then, to be a liberal (in the sense in which to be 
a liberal does not preclude one from being a socialist) and 
a democrat. I believe the individual to be an end, and the 
State a means to the fulfilment of that end. It is an un- 
satisfactory and often a formidable means, and apt to 
display a Frankeftstein-like tendency to destroy its creator, 
but it is a necessary one. I am in sympathy, therefore, 
with that attitude to the State which regards it as a 
necessary nuisance. I believe the object of government to 
be the good of the governed and, with certain qualifica- 
tions, I believe that that good is to be found in the happiness 

1 1 have introduced in the but Chapters of Parts II and IV (Chapters 
XII and XIX) a number of conclusions which owe, so far at least as 
their mode of presentation is concerned, something to the author, 
But these conclusions are presented only in the form of corollaries 
to which the preceding survey of the views of others has seemed to 


of the governed. I do not hold in ethics the view that 
happiness is the sole end of life, but I do believe that it is' 
the only one of which politics can presume to take account. 
The business of government then ii, if I am right, to 
promote the happiness of the governed. 

This view is in the modern world widely disowned. If 
I were to put to them the question, " Am I more properly 
to be conceived as an expression of the State's will, as a 
drop of blood in an ocean of racial purity, as a cog in 
a proletarian machine, as a unit in an industrial ant-state, 
or as an end in myself with a right to happiness in this life 
and a chance of immortality beyond it? " few of those who 
dominate the thought and.set the standards of contemporary 
Europe would be found to answer that I am the last of these. 
I cannot, then, escape the reflection that in asserting that 
I am an end in myself, I am running counter to most of 
the theories which are fashionable to-day. Nevertheless, I 
cannot help myself. I have my doubts about the immor- 
tality, but I have none about the importance, of individuals. 
Souls are souls even if their life here is transitory, and 
though they may not be immortal, it is none the less, I 
conceive, the business of government to treat them as if 
they were. The announcement of the importance of the 
individual is, in my view, the great gift of Christianity to 
the world. 

In ethics I hold that there are certain ends, truth and 
beauty for example, which possess value apart from 
human consciousness. In the realm of politics, however, 
I hold that the states of consciousness of individual men 
and women are alone worthy to be taken into account, 
and any theory must, in my view, be wrong which suggests 
that there can, in this sphere, be anything which is of 
greater importance than the experience of individual 
persons. I have attempted to defend this view elsewhere, 1 
and it is not my purpose to repeat the defence here. 

I state my own opinions thus dogmatically, only that the" 
reader may be in a better position to discount them when 
1 See my Libtrty To-day, Chapters IV and VI. 


following my exposition of others' views. In a book of this 
kind, clarity and impartiality are the touchstones of 
success. How far I have succeeded in being impartial, he 
will be in a better position to determine after reading the 
foregoing confession of faith. For, knowing the background 
from which I start, he will be the better able to judge 
whether, and to what extent, it has coloured the fore- 

Moreover, an initial confession of beliefs indicates frank- 
ness in the author and begets confidence in the reader. 
These are two admirable qualities in those who are propos- 
ing to undertake together the somewhat formidable journey 
through the pages of this book. 

My thanks are due to the following for kindly reading 
through various chapters in manuscript and for malciyig 
valuable suggestions which I have adopted: 

Professor L. S. Stebbing (Chapter V) 
Mr. Dennis Routh (Chapters XIII and XIV) 
Mr. H. B. Acton (Chapters XV and XVI) 
Mr. H. W. Durant (Chapter XVII). 

The above are, however, in no sense responsible for any 
of the views expressed. 

I have also to record my indebtedness to Mr. E. W. F. 
Tomlin who discussed with me the plan of the book before 
it was written, supplied valuable notes and references, 
made many suggestions both as to contents and to mode 
of treatment, and read through the whole in manuscript. 

a E. M. JOAD 
Hampstead, December 1937 





The Common Conclusion of Greek Thought. For 
the Greeks, ethics and politics were two aspects of a 
single enquiry. It was the business of ethics to prescribe 
the good life. for the individual; it was the business of 
politics to detenfcinc the nature of the community in which 
the good life as prescribed by ethics could be lived. The 
raison d'ftrt of politics, in other words, was to be found in an 
end beyond itself, an end which was ethical. The end was, 
however, one which could only be realized in an environ- 
ment whose nature it was the purpose of politics to discover. 
This conclusion was common to Plato 1 and to Aristotle 1 . It 
is,- indeed, at once the common and distinctive conclusion 
of all the Greek philosophers who concerned themselves 
with these questions. The purpose of this and the following 
chapters is to indicate the reasoning which led to it. 

That Society is Based on a Compact Our most 
convenient starting point is afforded by the speeches 
delivered by Glaucon and Adeimantus in die second book 
of Plato's Republic. Their avowed purpose is to show that 
what is called morality is in no way intrinsically superior to 
immorality. People, they affirm, are moral as a result not of 
conviction, but of convention. They act morally, that is to 
say, either because they fear the consequences of acting 
immorally, or because they desire the esteem with which the 
community has taken care to reward those who behave in 
a manner which is conducive to its advantage. In other 
words, it is the reputation not the reality of goodness that is 
desired, for nobody ever does right simply because it is right. 
1 4^ 7-346 B.C. '384-382 B.C. 


The case of Glaucon and Adcimantus falls into two parts. 
Pint, men are by nature lawless and non-moral; they are 
bundles of imperious desires, and their actions are prompted 
by no other motive than the gratification of their desires; 
this, at least, is true of man as he was in a state of nature. 
In course of time, however, it was borne in upon him that 
the measures necessary for the gratification of his desires 
were impeded by similar measures on the part of others 
seeking to gratify their desires. The acquisition of the 
necessities of life food, for example, or shelter, or a wife 
was exposed to serious dangers from the greater physical 
strength of neighbours in search of the same necessities 
as oneself, and the insecurity of life presently became in- 
tolerable. It was all very well, as Glaucon points out, to 
be able "to do injustice" oneself; but that others should 
be able to do injustice in return, was not so well. For they, 
after all, were many, while die individual was single- 
handed. Thus in a state of nature in which every man's 
hand was against' his fellows, the individual was liable to 
fare badly; so badly, indeed, that there came a time when 
he decided to forgo his right to gratify his desires as and 
when he pleased, provided that his neighbours made a 
similar concession, and to indulge only those of his desires 
which were not incompatible with the indulgence of the 
desires of others which were not, that is to say, socially 
injurious. He decided, in other words, to live in society. 
Society is thus the result of a compact to end a state of 
nature which man's purely selfish conduct had rendered 

Man in Society* Man in society proceeds to make 
laws, the object of which is to restrain himself and his 
fellow-citizens from anti-social conduct designed to satisfy 
the self irrespective o the convenience of others. As a 
member of society, the citizen conforms to its conventions 
and obeys its laws ; but he does these things not from choice, 
but .from fear; not, that is to say, because he naturally 
prefers to do what is right, but, lest a worse thing befall 


him, if he transgress the ordinances of society. Morality, 
then, which we may identify with law-abiding conduct, is 
not natural to human nature; it is the offspring of conven- 
tion, an offspring born not of a natural preference for doing 
right as compared with doing wrong, but of the conse- 
quences with which society has taken care to visit socially 
injurious conduct. Thus society is based upon a contract, 
expressed or implied, by which every man gives up his 
natural right to "aggress against " his fellows on condition 
that they give up their natural rights to "aggress against" 
him. The above argument is one which recurs frequently 
in the writings of political theorists. The particular form 
in which I have just summarized it follows fairly closely 
the reasoning of Hobbes, 1 the most consistently logical of 
all the exponents of the view that society is based upon a 
compact or contract. 

Gyges's Ring. To return to Plato's exposition of the 
contract view of the origin of society, Glaucon proceeds 
to cite a legend which recalls how a certain Gyges became 
possessed of a ring which enabled him to become invisible 
at will. He was thereby placed in a position of complete 
irresponsibility, since, doing what he pleased, he was able 
to escape the consequences of his actions by becoming 
invisible. So he killed the king and took the king's wife 
and proceeded to establish the absolute rule of a despot 
whose sole object is the gratification of his own caprices. 
Now is there anybody, asks Glaucon, in effect, who, given 
a similar immunity, would not behave in a similar manner? 
Let us suppose that we could act precisely as we pleased 
without let or hindrance. Would we really behave as we 
do? And if honesty compels us to admit that we would 
not, are we not conceding the truth of Glaucon's main 
contention that nobody is moral from choice, but only 
because of his fear of the consequences, by means of 
wtych society has taken care to deter him from being any- 

*See Chapter XIII, pp. 479-478, for an account of HobWi 
political theory* 


thing but moral ? Remove the fear of these consequences, as, 
for example, by endowing a man with the power to become 
invisible at will, and he would at once lapse into the natural, 
lawless state of his pr^-society days, satisfying his desires as 
and when he pleased, without reference to so-called moral 
considerations. Man, then, is by nature not just, but unjust; 
not moral, but non-moral. 

That Society Rewards the Virtuous. Plato hext intro- 
duces Adeimantus to reinforce the argument of Glaucon. 
Adcimantus does not deny that almost everybody does 
for the most part behave morally. Not only do men behave 
as if they valued morality; they do, he admits, in fact 
value it. But why do they value it? Because of the care 
which society has taken to cause it to appear valuable; 
because, in short, of the rewards which society has assigned 
as inducements to its pursuit. Thus the second part of the 
case is devoted to showing that man's apparent regard for 
morality is not really disinterested, is not, that is to say, 
a regard for morality in itself, but is generated by and 
proceeds from a consideration of the respective conse- 
quences of so-called moral and so-called immoral actions. 
Human society, to commit an anachronism and adapt 
a metaphor of Schopenhauer's, is like a collection of 
hedgehogs driven together for the sake of warmth. Spikes 
in close proximity would prick, unless they were well 
felted. Hence those kinds of behaviour are encouraged by 
society which felt the spikes and so render social inter- 
course possible. Society's encouragement takes, in the 
first place, the form of moral approval; it defines as virtuous 
those actions which benefit society. Thus courage is 
regarded as morally good because the soldier's willingness 
to face the enemy is more advantageous to an army than 
the coward's practice of giving way to his natural reaction 
to belching cannon and running away; meekness and 
contentment, because those who are satisfied with their 
stations in life make good citizens and give no trouble to 
the Government; truth-telling, because if we all told lies, 


nobody would believe anybody else, and there would be 
no point in telling lies. The advantage to others of the 
virtue of unselfishness is obvious, and selfishness is repro- 
bated because society loses by the selfishness which it 
reprobates. Thus, virtuous conduct is simply the habit of 
acting in ways of which society approves, and society takes 
care to secure its performance by punishing with the ostra- 
cism of public opinion, backed by the penalties of the law, 
those who have the temerity to outrage its moral code. 
The conclusion is the one already reached ; men act morally 
not because they are by nature virtuous, but to avoid the 
censure of society. 

That Honesty is the Best Policy. But the rewards 
which society offers to the good that is, to those who 
act in ways which conduce to its advantage are not 
confined to the intangible benefits of moral approval. By 
a hundred maxims of the "Honesty is the best policy" 
type, we strive to convince a man that right conduct is- the 
path to prosperity and happiness. Nor are the benefits 
accruing to "right conduct" confined to this world. Most 
social systems have emphasised the pleasure which the 
gods take in an honest man, being careful at the same to 
paint the results of displeasing the gods in the liveliest 

Thus, every man is bidden to choose between two 
different types of life; the first involves taking out a short- 
term insurance policy, the benefits of which are drawn in 
terms of earthly pleasures to be enjoyed here and now, 
pleasures both dubious so say the moralists and short 
lived; the second envisages a long-term policy involving 
the payment of certain premiums in the form of self- 
restraint and law-abiding conduct in the present, for 
which the holder is compensated with the prospect of an 
eternity of divine bliss in the hereafter. It is not surprising 
that most men choose the second, and, suppressing their 
natural, primitive desires, conform to the requirements of 
society by maintaining a decent level of moral behaviour. 


This does not mean that they reverence morality and hate 
immorality, but simply that they prefer tlic consequences 
which attend the former to those with which society has 
taken care to discourage the latter. Thus, morality is 
honoured not for itself, but for its rewards. Compare 
justice and injustice as they are in themselves, stripped, 
that is to say, of their consequences; nay, more, visit the 
just man with the consequences which usually attend 
upon injustice, and give him the reputation of being unjust 
into the bargain, and who would wish to be just? 

Is it, in the face of these arguments, possible to prove 
that justice is intrinsically superior to injustice, that moral- 
ity, in other words, is in itself better than immorality? 
If it is possible, say Glaucon and Adeimantus in effect, will 
you please, Socrates, to prove it? 

A Political Answer to an Ethical Question. The 
case is a formidable one, and the remainder of! Plato's 
Republic either directly or by implication, is devoted to 
answering it With the details of Socrates's 1 answer we 
are not at the moment concerned. What concerns our 
present purpose is to point out that though the question 
is an ethical one is morality in itself superior to immorality 
and, if so, why? the answer to it takes a political form. 
For, in order to answer it, Socrates proceeds to the con- 
struction of an ideal State. 

Reasons for Construction of the Ideal State. The 
ostensible reason which Socrates gives for adopting this 
course is that, if we are in search of the principle of morality 
(a principle which in the Republic is called the principle of 
justice) in order that, having found out what it really is 
in itself, we may be in a position to decide whether it 

1 Socrates is the leading character of the Republic and, indeed, of most 
of Plato** Dialogues. There is controversy as to whether the Socrates 
of the Dialogues is closely modelled on the historical personage; or 
is merely a dramatic character invented as a mouthpiece for Plato's 
, own ideas. The weight of opinion at present inclines to the former , 
view, at any rale in regard to the Socrates of the earlier Dialogues. 


is or is not desirable and whether, in particular, it is or is 
not superior to the opposite principle of immorality, we 
are more likely to find it where it is "writ large" than 
where it is "writ small". Now the State is the individual 
"writ large". Therefore, we are likely to find the principle 
of morality more easily in the State than in the individual, 
and most easily 'of all in the best of all possible States, since 
the best of all possible States is likely to exhibit it the most 
clearly. After what model, then, are we to conceive the 
best of all possible States? To answer the question, Socrates 
embarks upon the construction of an ideal State, an under- 
taking which occupies him more or less continuously 
throughout the rest of the Republic. The analogy between 
the State and the individual, an analogy which entails the 
important implication that what is true of the one will 
mutatis mutandis be true of the other, what is good for the 
one, good also for the other, is often invoked by writers on 
political theory, arid we shall meet it again in the writings 
of nineteenth century political theorists. The question 
inevitably arises how far the analogy is a valid one; 
this question is considered in a later chapter. 1 Plato 
regards the analogy as fruitful, frequently applying to the 
State the principles which he has discovered to operate 
in the soul of man, and vice versa interpreting the workings 
of the soul after the model of those of the State. It is 
on the basis of this analogy that in the Republic he 
now turns his attention to politics. Before we follow him, 
I propose to say something about the corollaries which 
follow from this somewhat abrupt transition, from the 
transition, that is to say, from an ethical question to a 
political answer. These are both important in themselves 
and highly characteristic of Greek thought. 

Socratcs's Search for an Ordering Intelligence. The 
first of these corollaries is embodied in the celebrated 
announcement that man is a social or political being. 
The implications of this announcement are far reaching. 
1 Sec Chapter XVIII, pp. 759-765. 


Among the mott important is the tendency of Greek drinkers 
to interpret happenings in terms of their final causes, and 
to explain people and things Ideologically. In order that 
the significance of this tendency may be realized, it is 
necessary that I shotold give some account of the early 
thought of Socrates. (470-399 B.C.) 

In a celebrated passage in the Dialogue called the 
Phaedo, Socrates describes die course of his early philosophi- 
cal speculations; Originally, he says, he turned his attention 
to the outside world and endeavoured to find there an 
explanation of the things that puzzled him. His concern 
was, in fact, with what we should now call physics and 
astronomy. Pursuing his enquiries, he studied the works 
of the leading philosophers of the time. To his surprise 
he found that they threw no light on the questions that 
interested him. They only explained haw things happened, 
while he was interested in why they happened as they did. For 
there must, he felt, be some reason why they happened as 
they did, and a reason implied a mind that reasoned. 
Hence, when Socrates heard that a philosopher, Anax- 
agoras, had said that the world was ordered by a Mind or 
Intelligence, he was exceedingly interested and looked 
forward to receiving further light on this fruitful suggestion. 
His hope was, however, disappointed, for it turned out that 
the only order in the universe that Anaxagoras postulated 
was the kind of order appropriate to a machine in which 
every part was determined by every other. As for the action 
of Intelligence, it was limited, apparently, to giving the 
initial impulsion to the machine; this done, it withdrew from 
the scene. Anaxagoras's Intelligence, in other words, 
started motion in space and thereafter mechanism reigned 

Now whether this was or was not the way in which the 
universe worked, it threw no light at all upon the question 
why it worked as it did. If, Socrates argued, the reason 
why things happened as they did was that an Intelligence 
was ordering them, it would surely order them for the best 
The reason why things are as they are must, in fact, 


be that it is best that they should be as they are; or 
rather, that it is best that they should completely become 
themselves, for things do not, the fact is obvious, always 
realize the whole of their potentialities. Human beings, 
for example, only too often, remain undeveloped with 
capacities untrained and energies unused. Even plants do 
not always completely reproduce the characteristics of 
their kind. Hence, to say that it is best that things should 
he as they are, is to say that it is best that they should 
realize all that they have it in them to be, that they should, 
in fact, become completely themselves. The inference is 
that the explanation of things is to be found in the end or 
purpose which may be supposed to animate each living 
thing, which is that it should as completely as possible 
become itself. 

In order to discover what becoming completely itself 
means in a special case, Socrates bids us direct our attention 
to the soul of man. His great contribution to philosophy 
was, indeed, his insistence on the importance of the indi- 
vidual soul. As we should now put it, he diverted the 
attention of speculation from physics to psychology, in- 
sisting that, if you wanted to know the essential nature 
of things, the proper method was not to take bits of matter 
to pieces and see what they were made of, but to -try to 
understand the nature of the* human soul. For if we fully 
understood the -true nature of a soul, of a soul, that is to 
say that had succeeded in becoming completely itself, 
we should also understand the nature of the end or purpose 
of the soul's existence. 

Human Nature considered Ideologically. For one of 
the distinguishing characteristics of a soul as opposed to a 
piece of matter is that, unlike matter, it may be conceived 
to have an end or purpose. You cannot appropriately ask 
about a piece of matter, what is it after, or what is it trying 
to become? But these are precisely the questions which are 
relevant to an enquiry into the nature of the soul of man. 
Hence any such enquiry must take into account the purpose 

which the soul may be conceived to be fulfilling and the 
end which it is seeking to realize, since in the fulfilment 
pf the purpose and the realization of the end will be 
found the reason for its being what it is. And not only the 
reason for its being what it is, but also the nature of what 
it is* For just as we may appropriately say that it is the 
nature of a watch to tell the time, describing its nature 
in terms of the activity which it is designed to perform,, 
an activity which in turn depends upon the purpose which 
it is required to fulfil, so we may say that the nature of a 
soul wul be realized in the performance of its specific 
function and the realization of its appropriate end* What 
is more, unless the function is performed, unless the end 
is achieved, the full nature of the soul will remain un- 

An interpretation of the nature of a thing in terms of 
the end or purpose which it may be regarded as seeking 
to realize, is usually known as a "ideological interpre- 
tation", the word "ideological" being derived from the 
Greek work Uks which means end. 

The Scientific Mode of Explanation. In affirming, 
then, that the resort to ideological modes of interpretation 
is characteristic of Greek thought, I am asserting that 
Greek thinkers habitually interpret actions and movements 
by reference to their end or goal. This method of explana- 
tion requires to be sharply distinguished from the method 
normally adopted by contemporary thinkers. The 
contemporary thinker who sets out to describe the nature 
of a thing, whether the thing in question is a devdoping 
organism, a moral code, or a political institution, tends to 
adopt what may broadly be called a scientific mode of 
description. A scientific mode of description is that which 
applies most appropriatdy to the workings of a machine. 
Every movement in a machine is the result of a preceding 
movement which is regarded as the cause of the move- 
ment in question. This preceding movement is linked with, 
and caused by, a yet earlier movement. Thus in seeking 


to give an account of any particular movement which we 
may have set out to investigate we shall, if we adopt the 
scientific method, find ourselves committed to following 
a chain of linked movements which terminate only with 
the first movement which initially set the machine going. 
This movement was not itself uncaused; it was the effect 
of a stimulus applied to the machine from without. You 
wind the watch and the watch goes; you turn the crank 
and the engine starts. Thus the typical scientific explanation 
,of an event tends to look for the exciting stimulus to which 
the event in question, whether it is the movement of a 
machine, or the behaviour of an insect, animal or man, 
may be regarded as a response. 

Analogous to the explanation of the movements of a 
physical thing in terms of their mechanical causation is 
the explanation of the nature of a growing or developing 
thing in terms of its origins. Let us, by way of illustration, 
apply what I have called the scientific mode of explanation 
to the case of religion. Confronted by the fact of the 
religious consciousness, the anthropologist instinctively asks 
where did it originate? and answers, among our savage 
ancestors. The life of the savage, he will point out, is at 
the mercy. of forces which he cannot control. His crops 
are destroyed by rain or drought ; his communities decimated 
by famine and pestilence. Accordingly, he "personalizes" 
these hostile forces, projecting into them a whole hierarchy 
of gods and spirits, some good, some bad, hoping by 
prayers, offerings and sacrifices to win the favour of the 
good and to avert the malevolence of the bad. Thus religion 
originally arose from the savage's feelings of loneliness, 
and fear, which prompted him to attempt the 
propitiation, of the forces or beings who occasioned the 
fear. Having discovered the origin of religion in the feelings 
of fear, loneliness and helplessness, and in the need for 
propitiation, we^ shall, adopting the scientific mode of 
explanation, proceed to affirm that fear and propitiation 
are still its essential element to-day. Admittedly, they are 
in various ways disguised and sublimated. Nevertheless, 


we shall maintain, man's fear of the unknown and the steps 
which he takes to remove or to mitigate his fear arc, under 
all the various guijo which they assume, the essential core 
of the religious impulse in the contemporary world. 

Similarly we shall deduce from the discovery that 
civilized man has developed by traceable steps from the 
savage, that at heart his nature is still that of the savage, 
and that his civilization is only a veneer. As for man's 
ideal aspirations which express themselves in the sacrifice 
of the martyr, the endurance of the hero, the works of the 
artist, or the ardours and vigils of the saint, these, we shall 
insist, are only transformations of savage impulses or 
sublimations of animal wants. 

The Teleological Mode of Explanation. In contrast 
to explanations in terms of origin ideological explana- 
tions look not to what a thing has been, but to what it 
is endeavouring to become, and interpret its nature in the 
light of its goal rather than in that of its source. The 
explanation of a thing in terms of its original nature, or 
constituent parts, may serve well enough when the thing 
in question is a piece of matter it is, the ideologist 
would point out, distinctively the method of the physical 
sciences to take a thing to pieces and see what it is made 
of but it is inadequate when the subject of enquiry is a 
living and developing organism, and grossly inappropriate 
when the organism in question is a human being. 

Geneticists, for example, have attempted to exhibit the 
characteristics of a living organism as the automatic result- 
ant of the combinations of its inherited genet. Such an 
explanation, although it may give us valuable information, 
must, the ideologist insists, always be inadequate; and its 
inadequacy is due to the fact that there is more in the 
fully devdoped man than in the genes from which his 
nature took its rise. For would you, the tdeologist would 
ask, if you were trying to describe human nature, be 
justified in taking as your sample specimen an embryo, 
a baby, or even an adolescent? Would you not rather 


take as your example a man in his prime when his powers 
are at their height, his faculties at full stretch, his potential- 
ities fully realized? Imagine yourself to be exhibiting a 
member of the human species to an inhabitant of another 
planet who wanted to know what human nature was like. 
Is it not obvious that you would choose for your specimen 
not an embryo, not even a baby, but just such a fully 
developed adult as has bjen described? In short, the 
teleologist concludes, in order to understand and give an 
account of human nature you must observe it in its highest 
manifestation, and not merely in its initial condition, 
interpreting it by reference to what it may become, and 
not by reference to what it began by being. 

In their application to human beings, it is difficult to 
resist the force of these contentions. It is obvious, for 
example, that to know that Einstein was once a fish-like 
embryo and still possesses the rudiments of gills, tells us 
very little about die mind of Einstein now. What is the 
conclusion? That it is to their fruits as well as to their roots 
perhaps to their fruits rather than to their roots that you 
must look when you are seeking, to interpret the nature of 
living things. Now the investigation of fruits involves a 
reference to goals or ends, and the reference to goals or 
ends entails in its turn a consideration of function. For, it 
may be said, you can only find out what a thing is trying 
to become by observing the sort of things which at any 
given moment it is doing, while a complete account of 
what it is doing involves in its turn a reference to the 
purpose it is seeking to realize. 

The Two Modes of Interpretation Contrasted. Let 
us now apply these two modes of interpretation to the 
consideration of a concrete case. You see a man running 
a race; you see, that is to say, that his legs are in rapid and 
continuous movement. What explanation are you to give 
of these movements? 

Let us consider, first, the way in which the scientist 
would seek to account for them. What, he would ask, is 


the predisposing cause which induces this moving figure 
to agitate its lower limbs with such frequency and rapidity? 
Now the scientist's answer would be that a set of impulses 
travelling along the figure's motor nervous system ii pro- 
ducing certain contractions and expansions of his muscles. 
The impulses travelling along the motor nervous system 
would in their turn be said to be due to movements in the 
brain, and the movements in the brain would be thought 
of as responses to stimuli from the world outside, received 
by the brain in the shape of messages travelling to it from 
the sense organs. 

The details of the answer could be expanded almost 
indefinitely, but whatever form the answer finally given 
assumed, it would need, if it were to qualify as a scientific 
explanation, to satisfy two conditions. These are that 
whatever is cited as the cause of the movements of the 
figure must be a physical thing or event, and must precede 
in time the movement which it causes. Now, the idea of 
winning the race, involving, as it does, a conception of 
something which does not as yet exist, namely, victory in 
this particular race, satisfies neither of these conditions; 
it is not physical and it is not past. It is precisely to this 
idea that, a teleologist would say, we must look for an 
explanation of why it is that the man's legs move as they 
do. And since the idea involves a reference to an end 
which the man's activity is seeking to realize, it constitutes 
an illustration of the ideological mode of explanation. 
This ideological mode of explanation which, in the case 
of the runner, happens to be the obvious one, is difficult 
to fit within die framework of the conceptions applicable 
to physical science. Science, it has frequently been said, 
finds difficulty in making provision for the conception of 
purpose. Science would also shrink from admitting that 
something which does not yet exist, but is as yet only in 
the future, namely, the attainment of victory, can influence 
events which precede it in time. 

To take one more example of what is prima foci* an 
obviously ideological activity, let us consider the case of 


man working for an examination. Resisting the attrao 
ions of dancing, playing games, or going to the cinema,. 
ie sits at his table reading and making notes. Now it is, 
f course, possible to explain such behaviour mechanistic'* 
lly, in terms, that is to say, of some cause which is, as it 
fere, pushing the student from behind into his studious 
ctivity. Possible, but difficult; for it is hard to see what 
Tccisely the pre-existing stimuli, in the light of a response 
o which his activity is to be regarded, can be. The most 
tlausible account that we can give of what he is doing is 
o attribute it not to a push from behind but to a pull 
ram in front. What pulls him and, because it pulls him, 
auses him to do what he does, is the examination, the 
bought of passing which, although it is a thought of 
omething which does not yet exist in the physical world, 
icverthelcss determines his present activity. To use the 
erm most applicable to his conduct, we should say that 
ds motive is "to get through" his examination. Now 
active implies a goal or end not yet present which the 
,ctivity motivated seeks to realize. Hence, a teleological 
xplanation is one which regards activity as being deter- 
allied by goals or ends which have still to be realized. 

Inclusions as to the Nature of Man. We are now 
n a position to draw some conclusions in regard to the 
[uestion from which the foregoing discussion took its rise, 
vhat is the essential nature of man? In introducing this 
[uestion, I mentioned Socrates's turning away from 
>hysical to what we should now call psychological studies, 
ie looked, we are told, to the soul of man for a key to 
he explanation of things. In the light of the preceding dis- 
.ussion, the significance of this statement will be apparent, 
n the first place, it is not enough, Socrates would say, 
vhen you are giving an account of the behaviour of 
tuman beings, to seek for your explanation in the pre- 
xisting stimuli to which their bodies respond. You must 
Jso look to the goals, not yet reached, which they are 
eeking to achieve. Thus you will interpret idealism and 

> the predisposing tmuK which ife . 

to agitate its tower limbs with tuch frequency aad rapkfity? 
Now the scientist's answer would be that a ** of impuls* 
travelling *0ong the figured motor msvous tyrtcm h pro- 
ducing certain contractions and expansions of his mttscks* 
The impure* travelling along the motor nervous yitcm 
would in their torn be laid to be due to movementi in tie 
taun, and the movenaenti in the bwin would be thought 
of as responses to stimuli from Ac world outside, received 
by the team in the shape of messages travelling to it from 
the sense organs. ' 

The details of the answer could be expanded ahpott 
indefinitdy, but whatever form the answer finally given 
assumed, it would need, if it were to qualify as a scientific 
explanation, to satisfy two conditions. These are that 
whatever is cited as die cause of the movements of the 
figure must be a physical thing or event, and must precede 
in time the movement which it causes* Now, the idea of 
winning the race, involving, as % docs, a conception of 
something which does not as yet exist, namely, victory in 
this particular race, satisfies neither of these conditions; 
it is not physical and it is not past It is precisely to this 
idea that, a tdcologist would say, we must look for an 
explanation of why it is that the man's legs move as they 
do* And since the idea involves a reference to an end 
which the man's activity is seeking to realize, it constitutes 
an illustration of the theological mode of explanation. 
This tdeological mode of explanation which, in the case 
of die runner, happens to be the obvious one, Is difficult 
to fit within the framework of the conceptions applicable 
to physical science. Science, it lias frequently been said, 
finds difficulty in making provision for the conception of 
purpose. Science would also shrink from admitting that 
something which does not yet exist, but is as yet only in 
the future, namely, the attainment of victory, can influence 
events which precede it in time. 

To take one more example of what is prima foci* an 
obviously tdeological activity, let us consider the case of 

"-' " ,-V'I '" THR PROBLEM STATED <* VV.-' 1 .' 
- ' / . .'"- /*",.' 

a man working iqr an examination. Resisting the attrac- 
tions of dancing, playing games, or going to the <axuatoty 
he sitt at hii table reading and making notes, Now it % 
of course* possible to explain such behaviour mechanistic- 
ally, in terms, that is to say, of some cause which is, as it 
were, pushing the student from behind into his studious 
activity. Possible, but difficult; for it is hard to see what 
precisely the pre-existing stimuli, in the light oft response 
to which his activity is to be regarded, can be. The most 
plausible account that we can give of what he is doing is 
to attribute it not to a push from behind but to a pull 
frdm in front. What pulls him and, because it pulls him, 
causes htm to do what he does, is the examination, the 
thought of passing which, although it is a thought of 
something which does not yet exist in the physical world, 
nevertheless determines his present activity. To use the 
term most applicable to his conduct, we should say that 
his motive is "to get through" his examination. Now 
motive implies a goal or end not yet present which the 
activity motivated seeks to realize. Hence, a telcological 
explanation is one which regards activity as being deter- 
mined by goals or ends which have still to be realized. 

Conclusions as to the Nature of Man. We are now 
in a position to draw some conclusions in regard to the 
question from which the foregoing discussion took its rise, 
what is the essential nature of man? In introducing this 
question, I mentioned Socrates** turning away from 
physical to what we should now call psychological studies. 
He looked, we are told, to the soul of man for a key to 
the explanation of things. In the light of the preceding dis- 
cussion, the significance of this statement will be apparent. 
In the first place, it is not enough, Socrates would say > 
when you are giving an account of the behaviour of 
human beings, to seek for your explanation in the pre- 
existing stimuli to which their bodies respond. You must 
also lode to the goals, not yet reached, which they are 
aeefcing to achieve. Thus you will interpret idealism and 


self-sacrifice not as transformations of animal desires, but 
as intimations of the divine in man struggling for fuller 
expression. What is more, you will extend this mode of 
interpretation to all human psychological experiences, 
seeing even in our most elementary physical desires some 
traces, however faint, of aspirations to higher things. As 
opposed to those of an animal they are never, you will say, 
purely physical. Secondly, it is only in so far as human 
beings act tdeologicalfy, seeking by a distinctively human 
form of activity to achieve the ends appropriate to man, 
that they realise their full nature; that they become, in 
other words, entirely human* 

With this clue to guide us, let us turn again to the 
problem raised by Glaucon and AdeUnantus, and endeavour 
to answer the questions they raise in the spirit rather than 
according to the letter of what Socrates actually says in 
the early books of Plato's Republic. 

Conclusions in regard to Man in Society. Pint, the 
whole conception of a pre-social state of man is misleading 
and irrelevant. For if the nature of a thing can only be 
determined by reference to its highest development, 
human nature can only be fully realised in a society. 
Whether there ever was a pre-sodal state of man we need 
not at this stage of the enquiry pause to consider. It is 
enough to point out that, if there was, it was die state of 
a being not fully human, for, it is obvious, the full potential- 
ities of a man can only be realized in friendly and co- 
operative contact with his fellows. A race of congenital 
Robinson Crusoe* would not be a race of human beings. 
They would, for example, be undeveloped morally. If I 
have nobody to lie to, nobody to steal fun, nobody to 
betray and nobody to be unkind to, no Wttfljfrfrffff for the 
toting and training of my moral character arise. If I 
have nobody to protect, nobody to love, nobody to tep 
faith with, nobody to make sacrifices for, I am lacking 

\^ 0nS for *" morml !*<* iMttMfy 
which my character cannot develop. Now lacking 


moral development and lacking in consequence a moral 
character I am not fully a man. 

A man, in other words, is not a self-sufficient creature. 
He needs intercourse with his fellows in order that he 
may develop the full potentialities of his nature and, as 
the ideological view would insist, that he may become 
completely himself. Society! then, is necessary to humaii 
beings, if human beings are to be human, since without it 
they cannot become fully themselves. Thus the implications 
of the statement that man is a social or political being 
are not so much that men have always lived in society 
(although as a matter of historical fact this will probably 
be found to have been the case), as that it is only in society 
that they can become themselves. Society, in other words, 
is necessary to men in order that tfccy may be men. 
j . 

How fir Morality is merely Conventional What, in 
the second place, becomes of Glaucon's suggestion that 
morality is embraced by men only as a second best, because 
of their inability to enjoy the benefits of their own aggression 
without suffering the discomforts attendant upon being 
the victims of the aggression of others? The suggestion was, 
it will be remembered, based on the alleged artificiality 
of society. What was natural for man, Glaucon urged, was 
to commit aggression: finding, however, that the miseries 
resulting from a universal aggressiveness were intolerable, 
he gave up his own right to aggression and accepted the 
protection of society. In society, admittedly, he acts as a 
law-abiding citizen, but only through fear of the conse- 
quences, if he does not. Thus, Glaucon argued, morality is 
merely conventional .while immorality is natural. Certainly 
it is, Socrates replies in effect, if society is itself merely 
conventional, since morality is, from this point of view, at 
once the prop and the product of society. But emphatically 
it is not, if society is itself natural Conceive of society as 
something imposed by feme in the teeth of man's natural 
anti-social instincts, and you will be bound to think of 
morality as something which is also imposed and which is, 


therefore, conventional. But conceive of society as that 
which is an essential condition of human nature, ideologic- 
ally regarded, realizing itself, and society is just as * ' natural " 
as your alleged state of nature. In fact it is more natural, 
since men in a state of nature, if ever there was such a 
state, were not fully men. But if the foundation of your 
case, which is the amorality of an alleged pre-social state 
of nature is unsound, the superstructure, that man is 
naturally amoral and is constrained to morality only by 
fear and convention, falls to the ground. 

At this point a further question suggests itself. If the 
Glauconian view of human nature is the right one, how, 
one is entitled to ask, is the existence of society to be 
explained at all? For on Glaucon's premises nobody could 
ever have co-operated with anybody else, because nobody 
would ever have been willing to trust anybody else. 
It is no answer to the question to say that, while trustful 
co-operation is not natural to man, it is nevertheless found 
to pervade the relationships of men in society, because 
men in society have agreed to forgo their natural aggressive- 
ness and to co-operate with their fellows as a result of the 
contract on which society is based; for it is the making of 
the contract which is in question, and the making of the 
contract presupposes a willingness to trust one another on 
the part of those consenting to participate in it. Now such 
a willingness and the trustingness and trustworthiness 
it pre-supposes must have existed prior to the contract 
which was only rendered possible by reason of the fact 
that they existed. They could not, therefore, have been 
the products of it. The inference seems to be that, if Glaucon 
is right, the contract to form society could never have been 

That Society is Natural to Man. What follows? That 
some form of social organization among human beings must 
be postulated from the first; or rather, from the very begin- 
ning of the period at which they may first legitimately 
be called human. Whether Neanderthal man lived in 


society, the political philosopher does not know, nor does 
he very much care; it is a question which he is prepared 
to leave to the anthropologist. He is content to point out 
that, since it ia impossible to explain the coming into 
existence of society, unless the capacity for living in it was 
already present in the human beings who were members 
of it, and since this capacity cannot have arisen, as it were, 
out of nothing, we are driven to postulate the presence of 
this capacity from the earliest moment at which human 
beings are first entitled to be called human; or rather, if 
the phrase be preferred, we are driven to postulate th* 
potentiality for this capacity, a potentiality which must from 
the first have expressed itself in some kind of social organi- 
zation, however rudimentary. Thus a new meaning must 
now be given to the definition of man as a social or political 
being. Not only is man a being who only attains his real 
nature in society; he is a being who has always lived in 
some form or other of society, even if his earliest society 
was only that of the family group. Thus what we may 
call the social elements in man have as good a right to 
be called natural "natural", that is to say, not only 
in the "ideological" sense as indicating what, in his 
fullest development, he may become, but in the "original " 
sense as indicating what, in his earliest beginnings, he 
once was as those anti-social proclivities which Glaucon 
Attributes to man in the state of nature. 

I have elaborated these points at some length, partly 
because of their intrinsic importance, partly because of 
the frequency with which they recur in the subsequent 
history of political thought. The dominant political theories 
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were also based 
upon the conception of a state of nature which terminated 
with the formation of a society. The termination of the 
state of nature was conceived as an historical act, the 
implication being that society and the social, law-abiding 
conduct which it entails, are artificial in some sense in which 
the state of feature characterized by anti-social conduct,, 
is natural. These Social Contract theories, as they are called, 


will be surveyed in a later chapter. 1 They are, however, 
all exposed in one form or another to the criticisms which 
I have brought against the theory as originally expounded 
by Glaucon. 

How far Society is Based upon Force. A third con- 
clusion suggested by the teleological view of human nature, 
as reaching its fulfilment only in society, relates to the 
place and function of force in a society. The question is 
often raised, in what sense and to what extent is a society 
based upon force. According to the arguments advanced 
by Glaucon, arguments which were later to be developed 
by the philosopher Hobhcs 1 , force is part of the nature of 
society. That it should be so regarded, follows necessarily 
from the general position which Glaucon adopts. If 
morality is something whick is imposed by convention 
in the teeth of man's "natural*' tendency, which is to be 
amoral, then it is only by forte that the minimum of moral 
conduct upon which the working of society depends, can 
be maintained. We keep the laws, says Glaucon, not because 
of a natural law-abidingncss, but through fear of the 
consequences if we break them. The application of these 
consequences depends upon the presence of force. Thus 
the police force and the prisons are essential elements in 
every society, since, if there were no police force and no 
prisons, the law would not be obeyed and society would 
break up. If, indeed, they are not essential, Glaucon asks, 
why does every society take care to have them. The reason 
can only be that the rulers of society know that its members 
obey the laws unwillingly and that it is necessary, therefore, 
if society is to be maintained, that it should be able to 
invoke force to compel men to do what they would not 
do of choice. 

Put in this form, the argument is highly plausible; 
yet if its full implications were admitted, if, that is to 
say, we were to agree that people only obeyed the laws 

1 See Chapter XIII, pp. 472-512. See Chapter XIII, pp. 479-478. 


unwillingly through fear of the consequences if they did not, 
the whole conception of society as natural to man would 
have to be abandoned. The existence in every society 
of a police force and of prisons has, therefore, in some 
way to be explained within the framework of that alterna- 
tive conception of the origin and nature of society which, 
following the thought of Socrates in the Republic, I have 
been endeavouring to build up, the conception, namely, 
of society as a natural and therefore inevitable expression 
of natural human tendencies. 

The explanation might run as follows. We may agree 
with Glaucon that force is a necessary and inevitable 
element in every society; even, if the phrase be pressed, 
that society is "based upon force", without committing 
ourselves to Glaucon's deduction that because of this 
necessity for force in a society, men obey the lavs un- 
willingly. Force, it may be said, is necessary in a society 
not for the restraint of the great mass of the citizens who, 
being socially minded, have no incentive to act otherwise 
than in accordance with the commands of the law and 
the prescriptions of the accepted moral code, but against 
an unrepresentative few whose activities, if unchecked, 
would make the continuance of society impossible. 

That A Background of Ordered Security is Necessary to all 
Qvilized Activity. Every society, it must be admitted, 
contains a number of anti-social individuals who do, in 
fact, obey its laws unwillingly. Anticipating a later dis- 
cussion, 1 I may point out here that evil is parasitic upon 
good, in the sense that it is only worth while for spme 
people to do wrong because most people do right. Thus 
the burglar is parasitic upon the householder, since if all 
Were burglars there would be no property to. burgle. It 
is the many honest men who make dishonesty profitable, 
just as it is the many truthful men who make lying fruitful, 
since, if all men were dishonest, there would be no advantage 
to be gained by dishonesty, while, if all told lies, nobody 
1 Scc Chapter VI, pp. 208, 209. 


would believe anybody else and lying would lose its point. 1 
Since it is the existence of law-abiding citizens that calk 
into being the law-breaking thug, it is clearly the business 
of the citizen to restrain the thug. The philosopher cannot 
philosophize while his neighbour is abducting his wife, 
nor can the artist paint while the burglar is running off 
with his canvases. In this sense all civilized activity is 
dependent upon a minimum background of ordered 
security, and the maintenance of this background is a 
condition of its continuance. The use of force, then, is 
required in society not against the normal, social citizen 
but against the exceptional, anti-social citizen whom the 
law-abiding activities of the normal citizen call into 
existence, that he may be restrained from rendering those 
activities impossible. It follows that it is society's business 
to maintain that minimum standard of behaviour on 
the part of all which is the indispensable condition of 
the pursuit of the good life on the part of any. With this 
object, and with this alone, it is entitled, by means of the 
law, backed by force, to curtail a 'liberty whose exercise 
would threaten the purpose for which the State exists, 
and by reference to its ability to promote which its activities 
must be justified. 

The Nature of Excellence in a State. There is a 
fourth conclusion which follows from the terms of Socrates's 
answer to Glaucon, a conclusion which leads us to a con- 
sideration of Plato's ethical position. Human nature, we 
have argued, can only be fUlly realized in society; but, 
Plato adds, the society must be one which really is a 
society. Now societies can, it is obvious, vary in merit. (It 
will be convenient to adopt the accepted phraseology from 
this point and to introduce the word "State" although, 
for reasons to be given later, 1 the identification of the 
4 'State" with society is apt to be highly misleading.) States 

1 The significance of this fact will be enlarged upon in connection 
with the discussion of Kant's ethics in Chapter VI, pp. ao8, 209. 
See Chapter XVIII, pp. 765-767- 


then, it is obvious, can vary. What is a good State? One that 
makes the good life possible for all its citizens, or rather 
for it is important that we should not at this stage beg 
controversial questions- one that establishes the con- 
ditions in which* the good life can be lived by all citizens. 
In so far as the State performs this function, in so far, that 
is to say, as it establishes these conditions, it realizes the 
end for which it exists. Now according to the telcological 
view outlined above, it is only in so far as a thing achieves 
its end that it can be said to become itself and realize 
its true nature. It follows that only the best State is com- 
pletely a State, since it is only the best State which fulfils 
the function for which the State exists in relation to its 

This leads to a double conclusion: first, the good life 
for the individual can be realized only in a State, and the 
best life in the best State; secondly, the best State is one 
whose excellence consists in making it possible for all its 
citizens to live the best kind of life; in so far as it falls short 
of the achievement of this excellence, it falls short of the full 
realization of its proper nature, and fails, to be fully a 
State. What meaning, then, are we in this connection to 
give to the word "best"? To answer this question, we must 
consider Plato's ethical philosophy. 


The Republic of Plato, Book II. 

The standard edition of Plato is Benjamin Jowett's, The 
Dialogues of Plato. 

The Republic of Plato, translated by A. D. Lindsay, contains 
a valuable introduction to and summary of the text. 
NETTLESHIP, R. L. Lectures on the Republic of Plato, Chapter 


RgrxER, C. The Essence of Plato's Philosophy. 
Vr or a modern treatment of mechanism and teleology see G. D. 
Broad's, The Mind and its Place in Nature, Section A. 



The Double Problem of Ethics. In order to answer 
the question with which the last chapter concluded and 
the answer, as always in Plato's thought, is, broadly speak- 
ing, the same for the individual as it is for the community 
we must again retrace our steps and give some account 
of Socrates's ethical theory, of which Plato's is a developed 
version. Socrates's ethical position is summed up in a 
celebrated aphorism which asserts simply that virtue is 
knowledge, or is a form of knowledge. A man, in Socrates's 
view, had only to know what was good in order to desire 
it and to pursue it. Hence evil is a form of ignorance; the 
bad man is he who does not know what the good is. 

Now ethics, as I shall have occasion in the course of 
subsequent discussions to point out, is not an exact science. 
There are no experts in ethics to whom to refer for instruc- 
tion and information, no precise standards by which to 
measure good and bad. For an answer to ethical questions 
our best course is to refer to the moral consciousness of 
ordinary men and women in order to find what its deliver- 
ances are, and 'then to reflect upon their implications. 
With a view to throwing into relief the peculiarity of 
Socrates's position, it will be useful to adopt this course now. 
The moral consciousness of mankind seems to have been 
fairly unanimous in reporting that the ethical problem 
which confronts human beings is a double one. There is 
the problem, first, of knowing what your duty is, and the 
problem, secondly, of doing what you know to be your 
duty* The first may be called the problem of insight, 
the second, the problem of will. Now there cannot, I 
think, be any doubt that in the ordinary course of daily 
life both these problems do in fact frequently arise. 


The Problem of Insight Consider, for example, the 
problem of insight One of the commonest forms in which 
it presents itself is that of conflicting claims. It happens 
from time to time that two claims are made upon a man, 
both of which are such as he is morally required to 
recognize, both of which he does in fact recognize, but 
which are, nevertheless, such that, if he yields, to the one 
he is inevitably bound to ignore the other. People are 
accustomed to cite a number of familiar stock cases to 
illustrate this competition between conflicting claims. 
There is the case of the man on a sinking ship who wonders 
whether he should save his mother or his wife. There is 
only one place left in the lifeboat, and it rests with him to 
determine which of the two shall fill it; he ought to save 
both, but he can only save one. There is the example of 
the man in the burning house confronted with the problem 
of whether to rescue a baby or a picture. The picture is 
an old master whose aesthetic value is universally acclaimed. 
Moreover, the baby can be replaced, but the picture 
cannot. Nevertheless, the baby is alive and the claims of 
human life, it may be said, are paramount. The problem 
which confronts the Christian conscientious objector in 
war-time is essentially of this order. He has a duty to the 
State to which he owes not. only protection from violence, 
but his education, his training, his upbringing, his tradi- 
tions, in a word the whole of that environment, moral, 
physical and spiritual which, as Plato would say, has 
made him what he is. He also has a loyalty to a creed, 
owning, he believes, supernatural authority, which bids 
him not to take human life, however supposedly good the 

In one form or another, this problem of conflicting 
claims affords the theme of many of the world's greatest 
tragedies. The typical tragic situation, as Aristotle has 
pointed out, is not that of the weak man knowing the 
right coune but tempted by avarice, lust or ambition to 
embark upon the wrong. It is that of the strong man torn 
by conflicting duties, or distracted by the pull* of com* 


pcting loyalties. He ought, he feels, to obey the claims of 
both these conflicting loyalties, and he wants to do what 
he ought to do; but the circumstances of the case are 
such that he cannot give his allegiance to both. Thus 
Antigone in Sophodes's play is torn between loyalty to 
her dead brother, Polyneces, which requires that she should 
bury his body and the obedience she owes to the king 
Creon, who has forbidden burial, reinforced by her love 
for Cram's son, Haemon. In Hamlet, the problem is essen- 
tially one of conflicting obligations. There is the obligation, 
as Hamlet conceives it, to avenge his father's murder, but 
there is also the obligation not to shed blood; for it is far 
from, clear to a civilized man that the best way of express- 
ing moral disapproval of a particular form of behaviour 
is to emulate it. The natural disinclination to shed the 
blood of his uncle is reinforced by the duty he owes to 
his mother. Yet to refrain is to betray his father's memory. 
It is precisely upon such problems as these that many of 
the world's greatest tragedies turn, and they are essentially 
problems of insight. One wants to do what is right but, 
unfortunately, one docs not know what is right. 

The Problem of Will. The problem of insight, then, is 
a real one. Nevertheless, it is to the problem of will that 
most writers on ethics have devoted the greater part of 
their attention. This is particularly true of those ethical 
writers who have been influenced by Christianity. For 
Christianity, arguing from the postulate of original sin, 
has always emphasized the wickedness of the human heart 
and the weakness of the human will. The typical ethical 
problem for Christianity is the problem of temptation. 
The problem of temptation presupposes that knowing what 
is right, one is, nevertheless, tempted to do something 
which one believes to be wrong, and the temptation arises 
because of the wickedness of one's heart and the weakness 
of one's will. The spirit, in short, is willing, but the flesh 
is weak. Hence the Christian insists upon the import- 
ance of prayer and the need for religious exercises to 


strengthen the spirit in order tbftt it may resist temptation. 
There is a Latin tag 

". . . Video mcliora proboquc: 
Dctcriora sequor . . . . " 

I recognize the better course tod approve it, but I follow 
the worse, which concisely summarizes this problem of will. 
Both these problems, the popular consciousness would 
I think agree, are real problems. They are also different 
problems. A man may possess an acute moral insight and 
a sensitive conscience, yet habitually ignore what his 
insight approves and his conscience enjoins. Alternatively, 
he may be a man of goodwill and strong moral character 
yet through dullness of understanding or grossness of nature, 
he may waste his good, intentions upon unworthy ends. 
Any ethical system which aims at completeness must, 
then, it is obvious, do justice to both these problems. 
Thus Aristotle begins his treatise on ethics .by recognizing 
two different kinds of moral excellence, excellences of 
intellect and excellences of character, the word "char- 
acter " being used to denote the feelings, desires and passions 
which sure, or should be, under the control of the will. 
Excellences of character can, he holds, be implanted by 
education. We can, that is to say, be trained to obey right 
rules of conduct before we can see for ourselves that they 
are right. What is more, unless we are first trained to obey 
them, we shall never, most of us, come to see for our* 
selves the lightness of that which our training has inculcated. 
We must, in fact, act as if certain forms of conduct were 
right and certain things good, taking their lightness and 
goodness on trust from others, before we are in a position 
to see that they are right and good for ourselves. Good- 
ness of moral character must, then, in Aristotle's view, 
come before goodness of moral intellect. Indeed, it is a 
necessary condition of goodness of moral intellect. Thus, 
to revert to the phraseology which I have been employing, 
the problem of will must be solved for us by training, 


discipline and education before we can solve for ourselves 
the problem of insight. 'Many of us, in the view both of 
Aristotle and Plato, do in fact remain incapable to the 
end of solving for ourselves the problem of insight. Hence 
the importance for these philosophers of right education, 
right laws and right religion which will form for us the 
habit of right living, thus relieving us of the burden of 
solving for ourselves a problem which is beyond the reach 
of our own unaided intellects. 

Preliminary Statement of Hedonism. Now the pecu- 
liarity of Socrates's position is that it recognizes only one 
of the two major problems of ethics, the one which I have 
called the problem of insight. Socrates held that, such is 
the compelling power of what he called good or "the 
Good" over the human soul, that a man has only to 
recognize what is good to pursue it. The moral problem, 
then, is simply a problem of recognition. 

The full implications of this view may be most clearly 
seen, if we take a brief preliminary glance at a somewhat 
similar position which has been maintained in regard to 
pleasure. Let us suppose that, for the sake of argument, 
we substitute for Socrates's word "good" the word 
" pleasure." A view very commonly held is that, whatever 
a man does, he does it solely in order to obtain pleasure 
for himself. This view is known as Hedonism, from the 
Greek word hidone which means pleasure. Why, for example, 
are people unselfish? Because, the supporter of Hedonism 
asserts, they derive more pleasure from pleasing others 
than from directly pleasing themselves. Therefore, in 
sacrificing themselves for the sake of other people they are 
only, after all, doing what they like doing best; or, more 
cynically, by means of self-sacrifice they obtain the pleasures 
of the complacent prig, the agreeable conviction of their 
own righteousness, or the feeling of superiority which men 
derive from their knowledge that other people are under 
an obligation to them; or, alternatively, they are masochiits 
and enjoy the xnasochist's pleasure of self-mortification. 


All or any of these moral and spiritual pleasures, healthy 
or perverted, outweigh for them the straightforward 
pleasures of comfort, appetite or self-indulgence. 

Why does a martyr go to the stake for his convictions? 
Because, being by definition an obstinate, self-willed sort 
of person, he insists upon enjoying the pleasure of having 
his own way, the pleasure of defying his enemies, the 
pleasure of occupying the centre of the stage, even when 
he has to pay for them by the pain of the fire. When, in 
due course, he feels the latter, it is too late to reverse his 
choice. Or again, if we prefer a less cynical interpretation, 
we may say that the martyr, being a man of high principles 
and strong conviction, finds it more painful to betray his 
faith than to face the fire. For it is in this guise that the 
two alternatives present themselves to him. In a word, if 
people did not really prefer the course they adopt, they 
would not adopt it. If they did not really think that they 
would like best to do what they in fact do, they would 
not do it. This is true both of the altruist and of the martyr. 
Now it is important to realize that the circumstance that 
a man may not obtain pleasure, when he expects to do so, 
is no disproof of the view just outlined. It is enough that 
he should think that he will* In point of fact, 
men frequently make mistakes of judgment as a result of 
which they expect that courses of action will bring them 
pleasure which do in fact bring them pain; and not only 
pain, but more pain than other courses, which it was open 
to them to follow. But when they embarked upon the courses 
of action in question, it was not because they were not 
aiming at 'pleasure, but because they had made a false 
estimate of the consequences of what they were proposing 
to do. Thus to perform an action which brings the agent 
more pain or less pleasure than another action which he 
might have performed is a sort of foolishness; it is the 
result of bad judgment, the agent, if the hedonist is right, 
having made a miscalculation. It follows that to suffer 
pain when dne might have enjoyed pleasure is to be guilty 
of an intellectual error. 


I have deliberately used ambiguous language in the 
exposition of the view that the motive of every action is 
to obtain pleasure for the agent because, as we shall see 
later, it is difficult to state the hedonist position with 
precision without exposing some of the difficulties which 
underlie it Some of these difficulties will be considered 
in a later chapter. 1 My present purpose is to state the 
view as persuasively as I can, in order that it may serve 
to illustrate the very similar view which Socrates advanced 
in regard to virtue. 

Socrates on Virtue. While the hedonists maintained 
that men always pursue what they take to be their pleasure, 
Socrates asserted that men always pursue what they take to 
be their good. Indeed they cannot help themselves, for they 
are so constituted that what they believe to be good, 
that they must always pursue. For Socrates, as for the 
hedonists, any apparent examples to the contrary can 
always on analysis be shown to be cases of miscalculation. 
Just as, according to the hedonists, human beings act in 
such a way as to induce boredom or cause themselves 
pain because they have falsely estimated the results of 
their actions, thinking that they will enjoy these results 
when in fact they do not, so, for Socrates, any apparent 
examples of a man's failure to pursue the Good are always 
due to his false estimate of what the Good is. Such cases 
occur because men think that something is good when 
in point of fact it turns out not to be so. Now not to do what 
one thinks to be right, not to pursue what one takes to 
be the Good is wrong; it is an evil. Evil, then, turns out 
to be due to a false estimate of what is good; it is, that 
is to say, a form of intellectual deficiency. 

Courage and Temperance as Forms of Knowledge. 
The arguments by which Socrates maintains this view areas 
follows. Let us, he would say, consider the case of any 
virtue, for example the virtue of courage. Now it is 
1 See Chapter XI, pp. 396-415, for a discuttion of Hedonism. 


not the case that the brave man is never afraid. Every 
man has a natural tendency to shrink from storming a 
hill crowned by a line of machine-guns with which the 
enemy are sweeping its slopes. "There is only one universal 
passion/' says Napoleon in Shaw's play, The Man of Destiny, 
"fear. Of all the thousand qualities a man may have, 
the only one you will find as certainly in the youngest 
drummer boy in my army as in me is fear. But," he 
continues, "it is fear that makes men fight." For, in spite 
of their fear, soldiers do in fact advance, rush the slopes 
and capture the enemy's guns. Why do they? Because, 
says Socrates, they are more afraid of some things, even 
than they are of the guns of the enemy. Of what things? 
Of such things, for example, as the doing of what is dis- 
graceful, of feeling shame, of the reputation for cowardice, 
of dishonouring the regiment, of betraying their comrades. 
And in case these psychological fears should not be suffi- 
cient, generals have taken care to ensure that they shall 
be backed by a system of discipline, which trains every 
soldier to carry constantly at the back of his mind the 
thought of a court-martial for cowardice, if he runs away 
in the face of the enemy. Thus, as somebody remarked 
during the last war, "discipline is a device for substituting 
the certainty of being shot if you don't -go 'over the top,' 
for the possibility of being shot if you do", the result being 
that soldiers go 'over the top/ However this may be, the 
point upon which Socrates insists, in the Dialogue called 
the Laches, is that the brave man no less than the coward 
is afraid. Why, then, does he differ from a coward ? Because, 
says Socrates, he is afraid of different things, and the 
things he fears, the doing of what is disgraceful and so 
on, are such as he ought to be afraid of. They are, that 
is to say, truly formidable while the other things, the enemy's 
guns, are such as ought to be faced. The brave 
man in fact knows what is truly formidable, while the 
coward does not ; thus the difference between the brave man 
and the coward is one of knowledge or insight. One knows 
what ought to be feared and the other does not. 


Or consider the virtue of temperance, which is discussed 
in the Dialogue known as the Chartnides. Temperance 
consists neither in the indulgence of every side of our 
nature nor in the repression of every side* On the contrary, 
true temperance implies that some rule of conduct has 
been adopted according to which every part of our nature 
is permitted as much indulgence as is good for it, and 
will not interfere with the development of the rest. Who 
or what is it that lays down this rule? Clearly it is reason. 
Temperance, then, is a form of self-knowledge. It depends 
upon, or consists in, a recognition by reason of how much 
scope should be given to the various appetites and passions; 
it depends upon our knowing which parts of our nature 
should be in subjection to which* The intemperate man 
lacks this knowledge. Not only does he not know when 
to put a stop to the indulgence of any part of his nature, 
but he does not know the proper ordering or disposition 
of the different parts, and he fails to recognize that his 
passions must be subject to a rule which has been laid 
down by his reason. 

Once again, then, we reach the same conclusion, that 
virtue is a kind of knowledge, a knowledge of "what 
ought to be" "ought to be", that is to say, because it is 
good , while evil is an ignorance of what "ought to be." 
Let the ignorance be removed and the compelling power 
of the newly recognized good cannot but draw the individual 
to pursue it. Socrates concludes that all the virtues are 
really one and the same, since each reveals itself on analysis 
to be a knowledge of die Good, and that, since no man 
can know what is good without doing it, wrong-doing is 
always involuntary. 

The Defects of the Socratic View. The defects of this 
view are fairly obvious and an enumeration of them will 
introduce the more developed ethical theory of Plato which, 
in its turn leads on to the political arguments, by means 
of which Socrates proceeds to answer Glaucon and Adei- 
mantus. First, then, the Socratic view entails what is in 


effect a circular argument. What, we want to know, is 
virtue? Socrates answers that it is insight or knowledge. 
Insight or knowledge into what? Into the Good, says 
Socrates. Now virtue is good or it is at least a good. Virtue, 
then, which is good, is defined as insight into what is good. 
This element of circularity affects all Socrates'* reasoning 
on the subject Courage, for example, is, as we have seen, 
described as knowledge of what is truly formidable. What, 
then, is truly formidable? Answer, an impending evil. 
Now courage is good* Good, then, consists in being able to 
recognize an impending evil; it consists, that is to say, in the 
ability to recognize by contrast with the evil what is good. 
Secondly, the definition leaves out of account what all 
would agree to be an obvious element in the good life, 
namely, some form of pleasurable or gratified feeling. 
Whatever may be the proper definition of virtue, the habit 
and practice of virtue must, it may be said, contain at 
least some element of feeling. Goodness, in fact, is not 
purely knowledge; it is always also emotional and passional. 
Unless we derive some satisfaction from doing our duty, 
it cannot be said that we are really good; unless the 
unselfish man is willingly or even gladly unselfish, his 
so-called unselfishness lays a blight upon his actions. 1 
For this undoubted element in goodness or virtue, Socrates 's 
definition makes no provision. Thirdly, there is the fact 
to which I have already drawn attention, that, while the 
ethical problem is prima facie a double one the problem, 
first, of knowing our duty and, secondly, of doing the duty 
that we know, Socrates's definition only takes into account 
the first of these. Fourthly, if Socrates is right, we cannot 
distinguish between the virtues. For, if virtue consists in 
knowing the Good, then it will be true of every 'virtue 
that it is a knowing of the Good; every virtue, that is to 
say, will be a knowing of one and the same thing. How 
then, it may be asked, can a man have a virtue and also 
a vice. How can a generous man be profligate or an 

1 See Chapter VI, pp. 217-224, for a further discuuion of the 
question how far virtue must be agreeable. 


honest man mean? For, if he has both the virtue and the 
vice, he is at the same tiine both knowing and not knowing 
the same Good. 

Wholes and Parts. This last criticism suggests a funda- 
mental defect in Socrates'* view. Socrates treats the soul 
of man as if it were one throughout and was wholly present, 
as it were, in each of its activities. It is with the whole 
soul that we conceive or misconceive the Good; it is with 
the whole soul that we desire it, or desire the false semblance 
of it that we have mistaken for. it. But how if the soul 
be more than one? For why, after all, should it not possess 
"parts", one "part" only, and not the whole soul, being 
responsible for the conduct upon which its possessor 
embarks at any given moment. 

It is in the affirmation that the soul does in fact have 
" parts " that Plato's advance upon Socrates's psychological 
and ethical theory chiefly consists. I have spoken of "parts ", 
because this word i* habitually used as a translation of 
the expression which Plato employs when he is speaking 
of the soul. Yet it is an exceedingly unsatisfactory word, 
suggesting to a modern reader that the soul is made up 
of "parts" in precisely the same way as that in which 
a machine or a jig-saw puzzle is made up of "parts". 
Now a machine or jig-saw puzzle is merely the arithmetical 
sum-total of its "parts ", a characteristic which the machine 
or the puzzle shares with all physical things. If a physical 
thing were not simply the sum of its "parts", the laws of 
dynamics and mechanics would not apply to it. Its con- 
stitution would also outrage the laws of arithmetic. Never- 
theless, there are some wholes, notably aesthetic wholes 
and psychological wholes, to which the laws of arith- 
metic do not in fact apply. The subject is a con- 
troversial one and I cannot embark upon a detailed 
discussion of it here, since it belongs to the metaphysical 
rather than to the ethical side of philosophy, and is treated 
at length in my Guide to Philosophy. 1 It is enough here to 
*See Giddt to Philosophy, Chapter XV, pp. 415*21. 


draw attention to the obvious fact that a picture is more 
than the sum-total of the chemically analysable canvas 
and paints which are used in its production; that a 
movement of a sonata is more than the sum-total of the 
vibrations in the atmosphere which are set going by the 
impact of the hammers upon the wires of the piano; and 
that a living organism is more than the sum-total of 
the various organs and functions which constitute its 
body, and which physiologists describe. The picture, the 
movement, and the living organism are all of them brought 
into being by the assemblage of their "parts", but they 
are in a very real sense more than that assemblage. 

I have said that they are brought into being by the 
assemblage of their "parts", yet there are some wholes 
which seem actually to precede their "parts". If I may 
be permitted to quote an illustration, which is given in 
my Guide to Philosophy, let us take as an example the policy 
of a Socialist Government. 

A Socialist Government committed to a scheme of 
Socialist reconstruction is, we will suppose, elected to 
power. It proceeds to take over the banks, to nationalise 
coal, transport, and cotton, to establish a National Invest- 
ment Board. All these measures may, from one point of 
view, be considered as separate, although related, govern- 
mental acts. From another and more fruitful point of view, 
they are the expressions of an underlying policy. Here, we 
may say, is the fundamental ground plan of the Socialist 
conception of society pervading and determining the char- 
acter of all that the Government docs. It is, therefore, 
immanent in all that the Government does. If we were 
ignorant of the ground plan, we should, perhaps, be 
unable to understand the interrelation between the various 
measures undertaken by the Government. It is only when 
they are regarded as items in the execution of a policy 
which is prior to, is immanent in, and yet transcends 
them, that tjieir mutual relevance can be grasped. Never- 
theless, though ignorant of the ground plan, we might, if 
we were sufficiently expert politically or endowed with 


a sufficiently acute political insight, be able to divine the 
ground plan from die acts. 

Now in this case it is, I think, obvious that the appro* 
priatc conception is not that of "parts" coming together 
to form a whole, but that of a whole or unity, a ground 
plan, as I have called it, which expresses itself in a variety 
of aspects. It is of this conception that Plato's theory of the 
soul makes use. The soul, he holds, is fundamentally a 
unity, but it is a unity which expresses itself in a variety 
of aspects or, as we should now say, a unity which exhibits 
a plurality of functions. The soul is, therefore, to use his 
own expression, neither a One, as Socrates had seemed to 
suggest, nor just an uncoordinated Many, but a One and a 
Many, or a One which expresses itself in Many aspects. 

Plato's Division of the Soul* Of these many aspects, 
Plato distinguishes three. There is the reasoning "part" or 
aspect; the "part" which is made up of the higher and 
nobler emotions; and the "part" which is made up of 
the appetites and passions. 

The differentiation of the soul into these three "parts" 
for the sake of convenience I propose to use the traditional 
expression is effected by the simple application of the 
law of contradiction. There is, Plato points out, a contra- 
diction between the course of action which we know to 
be right or good, and the courses which appetite demands 
or passion inspires. That which knows course X to be right 
and good cannot, therefore, be the same as that which 
inclines us to course Y. The reasoning part of the soul 
which, as Socrates would say, knows and desires to pursue 
the Good cannot, in other words, be the same as the 
purely appetitive part which is concerned only to secure 
its own satisfaction. 

Now in different people different parts of the soul 
predominate, and the general character of an in- 
dividual's conduct will be determined by the activity of 
the predominating part. Individuals may, therefore, be 
allocated to one or other of three categories, the allocation 


depending upon whether the reasoning, the nobly emotional, 
or the appetitive part of the soul prevails in them; upon 
whether, that is to say, their lives and actions are mainly 
governed by reason, by noble emotions, or by the appetites. 
One other feature of Plato's psychology requires to be 
mentioned before we are in a position to do justice to his 
ethical theory. 

Reason and Desire. The account which most psycho- 
logists have given of the individual psyche makes provision 
for a striving or endeavouring element, which is usually 
denoted by a technical word, conation. This striving or 
endeavouring element is that which, setting before us 
certain ends as desirable, impels us to undertake the 
activities which are necessary to realize them. It may also 
express itself merely as a kind of restless feeling which is 
not directed to any particular end. Conation stands, in 
other words, for the dynamic element in the individual's 
make-up, and, as such, it is often differentiated from 
reason whose function is limited to planning the steps 
which may be necessary to reach the objectives which 
conation sets before us. I shall have occasion to refer 
again to this division of so-called faculties in connection 
with a later discussion of free-will. 1 It is, however, important 
to realize that Plato envisages no such separation. Reason 
is not for him one thing, desire another; for although one 
part of the soul is described as the reasoning part, it does 
not, therefore, follow that it is without conation or desire. 
For Plato, every part of the soul is endowed with its own 
appropriate form of desire. Thus the reasoning part desires, 
although what it desires is the end appropriate to reason, 
which Plato conceives of as the discovery of philosophical 
truth* What is more, the reasoning part can exercise 
controlling, even coercive functions; it can, and in the 
good man it should, coerce the other parts of the soul 
into proper subordination to its authority. The reasoning 
part of the toul must, therefore, contain an element of 
1 See Chapter VII, pp. 268, 269. 


will. It possesses, as modern psychologists would say, its 
own particular dynamism. It is only cm the basis of this 
conception that we are justified in speaking of a pre- 
dominantly reasonable man or a predominantly reason* 
able mode of life. For, if the reason of Plato's reasoning 
part of the soul were to be conceived as a purely intel- 
lectual faculty, that by means of which we are enabled 
to understand abstract truth or to follow a chain of 
reasoning, or as a purely practical faculty, the instrument 
by means of which we achieve the ends of the desiring 
part of the soul, then there would be no such thing as 
a characteristically reasonable life. 

Levels of Mental Activity. The point assumes import- 
ance in connection with later ethical theory, when the 
question will have to be considered, can reason by 
itself prompt any activity, or determine any mode of life? 1 
Now it is, I think, obvious that it cannot, if it is to be 
conceived, as many psychologists have conceived it, as a 
separate faculty whose function on the theoretical side is 
purely speculative, and on the practical side is limited to 
realizing the ends which the appetitive part of our natures 
prescribes to it. For reason uninfused by any amative 
drive cannot, it is obvious, effect anything or motivate 
anything. Most modern psychologists are, however, agreed 
that so to conceive of reason, treating it as an isolated 
instrument of desire, or as an isolated faculty of abstract 
ratiocination, is to do violence to the facts of experience, 
dividing up into separate faculties what is a unified activity 
of life. It is difficult, when speaking of the human per- 
sonality, to invoke any metaphor which does not mislead; 
but this much at least seems to be true, that human con- 
sciousness is more like a flowing river than a bundle of ' 
sticks. It is not desire plus reason plus emotion plus will 
plus instinct: it is a whole or unity, which expresses itself 
sometimes in a predominantly rational, at other times in 
a predominantly appetitive or instinctive way. 
M See Chapter VII, pp. 267-271. 



Now this, we may take it, was in essence Plato's view. 
As I have already hinted, his reasoning, his emotional and 
his appetitive parts of the soul are not in any strict sense 
of the word "parts " at all. They arc rather to be conceived 
as different levels at which the sold can function; or, to 
continue my metaphor, as different channels along which 
the river of psychical activity may flow, the important 
point being that it is the whole soul which functions at 
any one of the levels, the whole river which flows at any 
moment along each of the channels. 

Plato's Metaphysical Theory. The essence of Plato's 
ethical theory, is that, since the soul contains more than 
one part, virtue consists not in the quality of one 
part, but in a special land of relation between the 
various parts. Plato proceeds to tell us what this relation 
should be. It is a relation in which the inferior elements 
of the soul obey the superior. Now the superior element in 
the soul is the reasoning part. It is with the establishment 
of this right relation between the parts of the soul that the 
excellence of the boul, called by Plato "justice", is identified. 

At this point, I must digress to give a brief statement 
of Plato's metaphysical views, since an acquaintance with 
these is necessary to a full understanding of his ethical 

That the reasoning part of the soul is not for Plato 
merely an instrument of thinking, or knowing, that it 
is impelled by an urge to embody in the life of the 
individual that which it knows, we have already seen. 
But it is, nevertheless, primarily a faculty of knowing, and 
we must now pause to consider what in fact it is that it 
knows. Plato's view was that the world of which we are 
made aware by our senses is not the real world; the world 
revealed to sense perception, the world of physical things 
is, he held, compounded in equal degrees of reality 
and non-reality. 1 Such reality as it possesses it owes to 

1 For a fuller account of Plato's Metaphysical Theory see my Giddt 
to Philosophy, Chapter X. 


the manifestation in it of what Plato called the Forms 
(the Greek word for Forms is sometimes misleading^ 
translated as Ideas) the collection or assembly of which 
constitute what Plato meant by reality. Thus all white 
things were, Plato held, white because of the manifestation 
in them of the Form of whiteness, the Form conferring 
upon them such whiteness as they art found to possess. 
Similarly, all square things were square because they 
participated in the Form of squareness. Any metaphor 
which is used to describe the relation between the Forms 
and the world of physical things of which our senses make 
us aware, is inevitably to some extent misleading;* but, if 
we think of the Forms as a set of seals, and of the stuff 
of the physical world as a formless, featureless wax, upon 
which the seals set their impress, we shall not be very 
far from the conception which Plato sought to convey. 
While the wax, which is the stuff of the physical world, is 
changing and perishable, the Forms are unchangeable 
and eternal. 

Among the Forms is the Form of the Good, which 
confers the quality of being ethically valuable upon the 
actions, institutions and characters which participate in 
it, or in which it manifests itself, just as the Form of square- 
ness confers the quality of being square upon such objects 
as chess-boards or paving stones, which participate in it 
or in which it manifests itself. 

In a famous passage in the Republic Plato attributes to 
the Form of the Good a position of pre-eminence among 
the other Forms* These are arranged in a hierarchy 
leading up to the Form of the Good, which exceeds them 
in degree of reality as they exceed in degree of reality the 
physical world. If we may accept the somewhat ambiguous 
intimations of this passage, -the Form of the Good is to 
be regarded as constituting at once the fundamental unity 
and the essential reality of the universe. There is, however, 
no support for or development of this view in any other 
Dialogue, and it is not necessary for our present purpose 
t o discuss it further. 


We have now to consider by means of what faculty the 
Forms are known. Plato tells us that they are known by 
the reasoning faculty. Of the physical world, he insists, 
we have not knowledge but only opinion, since, if 
there is something which is not entirely real, it is not 
possible fully to know it. It is only of reality, then, that 
knowledge ia possible* The knowledge of reality is achieved 
by the reasoning part of the soul, and that it may be made 
available to members of the highest or Guardian class in 
Plato's State is the primary end atid purpose of his educa- 
tional system. 

The Two Grades of Education. Outstanding among 
the features of Plato's State is the elaborate provision for 
education. Education, as Plato conceives it, falls into two 
categories. The first category of education is received by 
all citizens: its main purpose is to inculcate an attitude of 
mind which is reverent towards the city's laws and is 
jealous of its traditions. Citizens so educated will take 
the same views on all matters of ethics and politics as those 
who framed the laws and established the traditions. 
Intensely conservative by training and conviction, they 
will have no disposition to disobey the laws or to question 
the public opinion by means of which their lives are 
governed and their standards formed. As Plato puts it, 
they will honour the things which the city honours and 
despise the things which the city despises. As a result 
they will be contented with the status they occupy and 
with the function they perform in the community to which 
they belong. 

The second category of education is reserved for members 
of the Guardian class, who are defined as those in whom 
the reasoning part of the soul is predominant; Its object 
is so to train and develop this faculty that the Guardians 
will be enabled by its means to know the real world, that 
is to say, the world of Forms, as distinct from the semi* 
real world of physical things upon which the minds of 
ordinary citizens are directed. Among the Forms of which 


knowledge is achieved by members of the Guardian 
class, are the Form of the Good and the Form of justice. 
It is in the light of their knowledge of these Forms that, 
when they are subsequently confronted with institutions 
which manifest the Form of goodness and laws and acts 
which participate in the Form of justice, the Guardians 
will know not only that the institutions are good and the 
laws and acts just, but why it is that they are good and 
just; for, having recognized the Forms of goodness and 
justice, they will be able to attribute the qualities of the 
institutions, laws and acts in question to the manifestation 
of the Forms in them. In other words, the morals and 
politics of the Guardians are based upon a knowledge of 
reality, and it is in the light of this knowledge that they 
frame the laws and determine the standards which are 
to prescribe the conduct and form the moral and political 
opinions of the citizens of the State. 

Summary of the Foregoing. Thus Plato's conten- 
tion that virtue consists in a right relation between the 
different parti of the soul and, more particularly, that 
this is a relation in which the higher, or reasoning, part 
controls and the lower, or appetitive, part obeys entails 
the following positions. 

First, there is a reality which consists of eternal Forms; 
included among these Forms are the Forms of moral 
goodness and of justice. Of this reality it is possible for the 
soul of man, when suitably trained and educated, to have 
knowledge. It is by means of the reasoning part of the 
soul that this knowledge is obtained. 

Secondly, the reasoning part of the soul, in the light of 
this knowledge, prescribes not only what is right for itself, 
but also what is right for the other parts of the soul, 
including their right relationship to itself. Morality, there- 
fore, consists in every part of the soul subjecting itself to, 
and developing in accordance with, a law of life which 
the insight of the reasoning part of the soul into the nature 
of reality has dictated. Plato's conception of political virtue 


postulates, as we shall see below, a similar law, similarly 

Thirdly, it is only when the third or appetitive part of 
the soul stands in this right relationship of subservience to 
the reasoning part that it succeeds in achieving the best 
life for itself and realizing all that it has it in it to be. 

This last proposition raises a new point which, because 
of its importance both in Plato's thought and in later 
ethical theory, must be further developed. 

Self-Development in Theory. Throughout the history 
of ethical theory there appears, at different times and in 
different forms, the view that the good life consists in the 
unrestricted indulgence of the appetites and the passions. 
The view begins as a doctrine of self-development. We 
should give free play to every side of our nature, free 
play, that is to say, to all our faculties, to instinct no less 
than to reason, to desire no less than to the conscience 
which admonishes, and the will which seeks to control 
desire. This philosophy of all-round development is often 
regarded as a typically Greek view. Aldous Huxley has 
stated it with his usual clarity and conciseness: "The art 
of life," he tells us, "consisted for them [the Greeks] in 
giving every god his due. Thus, Apollo's due was very 
different from the debt a man owed to Dionysus . . . 
but every one was owed and, in its proper time and season, 
must be acknowledged. No god must be cheated and none 
overpaid." A man's duty, then, is to acknowledge all the 
gods, and to neglect none. Doing our duty, we "make the 
best of the world and its loveliness while we can at any 
rate during the years of youth and strength." As a theory 
of morals there is much to be said for all-round develop- 
ment. Unfortunately, however, it is very difficult to 
maintain in practice. Its essence consists in balance, but 
in practice the balance insists on inclining, and inclining 
nearly always in the same direction, for, since of all the 
sides of our nature, what Plato calls the appetitive "part" 
grows most by what it feeds on, the doctrine of free play 


for all tends insensibly to transform itself into a compul- 
sion to give free play to appetite. 

Self-Development in Practice* It is in this form that 
the doctrine of self-development has been most persistently 
advocated. As it has been developed by different thinkers, 
its injunctions have been enshrined in a scries of mots and 
aphorisms. (It is the devil's prerogative! as moralists will 
admit, to monopolise the witticisms.) That the Palace of 
Wisdom lies through the gateways of excess, that the best 
way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it, that "not 
the fruits of experience, but experience itself, is the end" 
are typical announcements of a doctrine, which has 
received literary expression at the hands of some of the 
world's greatest essayists, poets and novelists* The doctrine 
has achieved considerable popularity in the post-war 
world. D. H. Lawrence, for example, tends in his later 
works to represent any attempt on the part of the reason 
or the will to restrain the unlimited indulgence of the 
passions as a mutilation of the personality of the natural 
man by the restricting conventionalities of an artificial 
civilization. Restraint of passion is, indeed, for him the 
damming up of the stream of life which constitutes our 
very being. 

The official, ethical form of the doctrine of passional 
indulgence is known as Hedonism, which affirms that 
pleasure and pleasure alone is good or is the Good. I have 
already referred to this doctrine, 1 and as I am reserving 
detailed consideration of it for a later chapter,' I do not 
propose to develop it here. It suggests, however, one 
reflection which is immediately relevant to our present 
discussion. Just a* the doctrine of the all-round develop- 
ment of our faculties usually turns out in practice to mean 
the indulgence of our appetites and passions, so the 
philosophy of Hedonism, in which the doctrine receives 
official expression, has been usually invoked to justify 
forms of conduct which are different from those which 
1 Sec above, pp. 46-48. * See Chapter XI, pp. 396-415. 


the theory envisages. For, while Hedonism affirms that 
pleasure alone is the Good, and makes no pronouncement 
as to what forms of pleasure are the most* pleasant, hedonists 
are found in practice to concentrate upon the pleasures 
of the passional and appetitive parts of our natures. 

John Stuart Mill on Pleasure. In his book Utili- 
tarianism John Stuart Mill is careful to defend the view 
that pleasure is the -only good from the charge of what is 
commonly called immorality. The charge is, he feels, one 
to which Hedonism is peculiarly exposed. "Such a theory 
of life", he writes, "excites in many minds, and among 
them in some of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, 
inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has (as they express 
it) no higher end than pleasure no better and nobler 
object of desire and pursuit they designate as utterly 
mean and grovelling." But, he continues, the pleasures of 
the mind are no less intense than those of the body and 
by men of intelligence are unanimously preferred, for it 
is "an unquestionable fact that those who are equally 
acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and 
enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the 
manner of existence which employs their higher faculties." 
Mill concludes that "it is better to be a human being dis- 
satisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dis- 
satisfied than a fool satisfied." Possibly; possibly not. The 
questions at issue fall appropriately to be considered in 
connection with the discussion of Hedonism, which it is 
proposed to undertake in a later chapter 1 and cannot, 
therefore, be pursued here. 

Hedonism in Practice. It is sufficient for our present 
purpose to observe that whether Mill be right or wrong 
in theory, most hedonists have, so far as their practice is 
concerned, proved him to be wrong. Whether it is because 
the bodily pleasures are the most obvious and the demand 
for them the most clamant, ofwhether it is that the appetite 
1 See Chapter^ IX, pp. 330-332 and XI, pp. 396-415. 


for them grows most with what it feeds on, it is with the 
pleasures of the body, and not with those of the mind or 
the spirit, that the philosophy of Hedonism has been 
historically associated. To tread the primrose path, to 
drain the wine-cup to the dregs, and to sport with 
Amaryllis in the shade, have been the almost unanimous 
practices of those who have believed, and proposed to act 
upon, the view that pleasure is the end of life. Thus a 
school of Greek philosophers, known as the Cyrenaics, 
who maintained that Hedonism was the only true philo- 
sophy, were celebrated for their lives of self-indulgence. 
Now it is in opposition to this particular school of thought 
that the full significance of Plato's affirmation of the need 
for a right relationship between the different parts of the 
soul, and in particular of the subjection of the third part 
to the first, will be realized. 

Significance of Plato's view in relation to Hedonism 
Scattered up and down Plato's Dialogues are a number of 
important observations on the .subject of the hedonist 
philosophy, at some of which we shall glance later. 1 His 
answer to it is to be found in his doctrine of the parts 
of the soul and his insistence upon the need for a right 
relation between them. For in saying that the appetitive 
part of the soul should be in subjection to the reasoning 
part, Plato is in effect making two different affirmations. 
The first is that the indulgence of the appetitive and 
passional part of the soul is not the end of life, and that 
the life which is dominated by passion and emotion is 
not the best life; the second that, even by the standard 
of Hedonism, the standard that measures the value of all 
states of consciousness solely by reference to the amount 
of pleasure they contain, it is prudent to subject the 
appetitive to the reasoning part, since it is only when 
they are subordinated to the rule of reason that the 
appetites and passion can secure the greatest amount of 
satisfaction of which they are capable. For an answer to 
1 See Chapter XI, pp. 407-410. 


the inevitable question, what, then, does the rule of reason 
in this connection prescribe, the reader is referred to 
Aristotle's doctrine of The Mean 1 discussed in Chapter IV. 

Summary and Recapitulation. Before I pass to an 
account of Plato's political views, it will be useful to sum 
up the ethical doctrines which have emerged from the 
theory of the soul and the right relationship between its 
parts. The summary may conveniently begin with a 
metaphor of which Plato himself makes use. The soul is 
likened to a chariot drawn by a number of unruly horses. 
Each horse is concerned only to follow his own impulses, 
and, as first one and now another exerts the stronger 
pull, the chariot is drawn hither and thither, pursuing a 
zigzag course and unable to follow any consistent direction. 
In the end it is dragged away from the track altogether 
and overturned, or dashed to pieces against the obstacles 
which it is powerless to avoid. Such is a man's soul which 
is dominated by its third part, that is to say, by the 
separate self-regarding desires which, oblivious of the good 
of the whole, impel it first this way and then that, so that 
instead of directing its own course and moulding its own 
destiny, it goes through life like a cork, bobbing on the 
waves df its own emotions. There is, however, another 
chariot in the seat of which sits a charioteer who holds 
the reins of the horses, controls them, and allows to each 
one only so much of his own way as will not interfere 
with the satisfaction of the others, dovetailing their different 
urgings into a single harmonious pull, and driving the 
chariot along its appointed course to a predestined goal. 
Such is the soul of which the reasoning part is in control. 
In the light of this metaphor we may summarize Plato's 
ethical doctrine as follows: 

i. The reasoning part of the soul which knows reality 
and knows, therefore, the pattern of the Good should 
dominate the other parts. 

a. The other parts of the soul should be content to 
*See Chapter IV, pp. 97-104. 



play their appropriate r61es in subjection to the reasoning 
part The virtues of temperance and justice which the 
Republic, in answer to Glaucon's and Adeimantus's challenge, 
sets out to discover, are identified with the maintenance 
of a harmony between the various parts of the soul and 
the subordination of the functions of the appetitive and 
spirited parts to the reasoning part. The just man in fact 
is he in whom every part of the soul knows its own sphere 
and is content to keep to it. 

3. The third part has its specific virtue which, for 
Plato is no ascetic, may be described as the virtue of 
enjoyment and satisfaction; but this it will only achieve, 
in any full measure, if it is in subordination to the reasoning 


Platonic Dialogues dealing more particularly with Plato's 
ethical theory are the Republic Books I V (for the division 
of the soul into four parts, ice Book IV), the Channides, the 
Laches, the Protagoras, the Gorgias, the Phaedo and the Crito. 
GRUBS, G. M. A. Plato's Thought Chapters IV and VII. 
TAYLOR, A. . Plato, the Man and his Work. 

An account of the views attributed more particularly to 
Socrates will be found in A. E. Taylor's Socrates. 


Plato's Ideal State. I have devoted considerable 
space to the exposition of Plato's ethical theory, partly 
because of its intrinsic importance, and partly because it 
provides the key to the understanding of his political 
theory. For, mutatis mutandis, the latter reproduces die 
former point by point. On & previous page 1 1 drew atten- 
tion to the significance of die fact that to the ethical 
problem set by Glaucon and Adeimantus, Socrates returns 
a political answer. Hie answer takes the form of the con- 
struction of an ideal State in which the principle of justice, 
a definition of which has been demanded by Glaucon 
and Adeimantus, together with a proof of its superiority 
to injustice, may be seen writ large. I have not space to 
enter into a description of the various features and pro- 
visions of Plato's State, curious and interesting as they 
are. They include a division of the citizens into three classes, 
Guardians, Soldiers and Workers, the possession of wives 
in common, at any rate by the highest, or Guardian class, 
the exclusion of artists from the city on the ground that 
most of them arouse emotions which are better left dormant, 
and an economic communism which prohibits the owner- 
ship of property by members of the Guardian class, in 
order that they may have no temptation to distinguish 
between what is theirs and what the State's. The neces- 
saries of life are made available for the Guardians by the 
third, or Worker, class; to these necessaries the Guardians 
have free and unlimited access, but they do not own them. 
Outstanding, as already indicated,' is a system of education 
which, taking charge of the child from its earliest years, 
1 Scc Chapter I, p. 24, *Scc Chapter II, pp. 59, 60. 


has for its object the inculcation of the same opinions 
and the establishment of die same scale of values as those 
held and observed by the founders and rulers of the State, 
and a willingness on die part of the individual contentedly 
to occupy the position in the community which is appropriate 
to his class. This rapid summary is very far from conveying 
the significance of even the provisions I have mentioned, 
and it gives no idea of the cogency and persuasiveness 
with which Plato argues on their behalf. Any account, 
however full, is bound to do injustice to the Republic, and 
those who are interested are recommended to read this 
great work themselves. My immediate concern is with 
those distinctive features of die State which afford a basis 
for the parallel between Plato's political and ethical 

Analogy between the Individual and die State. 
These are introduced by means of the analogy between 
the individual and the body politic upon the frequent resort 
to which by Greek thinkers I have already commented. 1 
It is more particularly to the individual soul that Plato 
likens the State. The soul, as we have seen, is divided into 
three parts; the ideal State into three classes. The 
highest class legislates and administers for the State; the 
second protects and fights for it; the third works for it, 
supplying itself and the members of the other two classes 
with food, clothing, housing, and the other necessaries 
of life. What principle determines the class to which a 
particular individual will belong? His own nature and 
disposition. We have seen that in different men different 
elements in the soul predominate. According to the dement 
which pfMJmniirefr^ so will a man be classed, those in 
whom the reasoning element is paramount being assigned 
to the ruling, or Guardian, class; those who predominate 
in respect of the spirited element to the military class; 
and those in whom the third part of the soul holds sway 
those, in other words, who must be regarded primarily 
1 See Chapter I, p. 95. 


as bundles of desires uncontrolled by reason, which is 
reduced to the r61e of the servant or instrument of desire 
to the third or worker, class. 

Wherein Justice in the State Consists. Plato holds 
that as a general rule the division of the population 
into classes will be determined by hereditary factors. The 
children of members of the third class will naturally tend 
to belong to that class: but he concedes the possibility that 
a child possessing a predominantly "reasonable" soul may 
occasionally be born to parents who are members of the 
third class. $uch a child will belong by nature to the 
Guardian, or ruling, class and provision is made for him 
to take his place within it. Now just as the character of 
the individual depends upon, and is. determined by, the 
part of the soul which in him is predominant, so the 
character of the State depends upon, and is determined 
by, the class which in it is predominant. For "do you 
imagine", Socrates asks, "that political institutions have 
any other motive force than the disposition of the citizens 
which always turns the scale?" Thus if the disposition of 
the citizens is mainly that of men in whom the second 
part of the soul predominates, the State will be a military 
one; if their disposition is primarily appetitive, it will be 
a plutocracy. Now plutocracies turn into extreme demo* 
cracies. This doctrine has, as we shall see, an important 
bearing upon the theories of leadership propounded by 
the authoritarian States of the contemporary world. 1 

It follows that, just as the excellence of the soul consists 
in the maintenance of a right relation between its three 
parts, the reasoning part (with the assistance of the spirited 
element) guiding and controlling the appetitive part, so 
also in a right relation is to be found the specific excellence 
of a State. A good State, in other words, is one in which 
the Guardian class rules with the assistance of the soldiers, 
and the great mass of workers and business folk obeys; 
and not only obeys, but obeys contentedly. For the incul- 
1 See Chapter XVI, pp. 653-658, especially 657. 


cation of a willingness in members of the second and 
third chases to accept their subordinate positions Plato 
lodes to his system of education, whose object is to instil 
into each citizen the same views as to what constitutes the 
welfare of the State and the excellence of the citizen as 
those held by its founders. Now the excellence of the 
citizen is to be found in his willingness to function in the 
sphere allotted to his class, and not to encroach upon the 
spheres of the other two classes. It expresses itself further 
in a conception of public duty which leads every citizen 
to regard himself as the community's servant, his activities, 
whether as soldiery worker or business man, as duties 
performed in the community's service, and his possessions 
as held in the community's trust. Justice in the com- 
munity, as in the soul, is the principle whereby each part 
is content to pursue its own proper business and to perform 
its own specific function, die Guardian class ruling, the 
Soldier class defending, and the Worker class producing, 
as its appropriate contribution to the welfare of the 

When Plato proceeds to a description of those States 
which fall short of his ideal, he habitually attributes their 
deficiency to the failure of the citizens to observe this 
principle. It is, for example, the fact that in a democracy 
everybody aspires to do everybody else's business which 
means, incidentally, that every citizen conceives that he 
is within his rights in meddling with the business of govern- 
ing it is this fact which, in Plato's view, constitutes the 
fundamental evil of this form of government. A democracy, 
he says, corresponds in the sphere of politics to a soxfl in 
which die third or appetitive pan is in charge in die sphere 
of ethics. Just as the predominantly appetitive man is at 
die mercy of 'his multitudinous desires, and behaves first 
in this way and then in that as one or another of his desires 
gains the upper hand, so, in a democracy, the policy of 
the State is at the mercy of the desires and ambitions of 
whatever class or party happens at any given moment to 
gain the upper hand. This view of democracy will be 


referred to in Chapter XIX 1 , where reasons are given for 
rejecting the criticism which it implies. 

The Twofold Excellence of the Guardians. A further 
parallel between Plato's ethical and political doctrines it 
afforded by the two conceptions of the good life which 
Plato respectively prescribes for his two main classes in the 
State. (I say "main classes" because the military class 
tends, as the Republic proceeds, to fade out of the picture. 
In a later Dialogue dealing with politics, The Laws, 
there is a different division of the population into four 
classes,, membership of which is based upon a property 

I pointed out above 9 that the -specific good of the reason* 
ing part of the soul was to be found in the contemplation 
of the immutable realities, which Plato called the Forms; 
the specific good of the third part in its subjection to the 
control and guidance of the first. Even by reference to its 
own specific end which is the gratification of desire, the 
third part of the soul, as Plato is careful to point out, 
fares best if it subjects itself to the rule of reason. Plato 
adopts a similar formula to describe the respective goods 
of the first and third classes in his State. 

For the members of the Guardian class there are, broadly, 
two sorts of excellence which constitute the "ends" of the 
Guardians, and two sorts of good life which are devoted to 
the pursuit of the two excellences. The first excellence is to 
be found in the life of reason, which consists for Plato in 
the pursuit of philosophy, since it is philosophy which 
enables, or seeks to enable, those who have been trained 
in its special dialectical technique to penetrate through 
the semi-reality of the world known by our senses to the 
world of full reality which underlies it. This excellence of 
the philosophical reason is a purely individual excellence, 
and the activity in which it consists can, presumably, be 
pursued in isolation. But the philosopher has a debt of 
gratitude to the city which has trained and educated him, 
1 See Chapter XIX, p. 791. *See Chapter II pp. 58, 59. 


taught frfrn^ to master the dialectical technique, and 
endowed him with the leisure which the philosophic life 
demands. This debt he discharges by undertaking, at 
periodic intervals, the active duties of citizenship. As 
Plato puts it in a famous simile, the philosopher from 
time to time returns from the sunlight of reality into the 
semi-darkness* of the cave in order to undertake the 
governance of the State. This is not a duty which he 
undertakes lightly, or even willingly; for who, as Plato 
says, that has access to the world of reality, would willingly 
busy himself with matters pertaining to the world of 
semi-reality? But as a good citizen of the State, mindful 
of the city's need of governance and of his civic duty to 
respond to that need, the Guardian does not hesitate to 
shoulder the obligation of ruling. As Plato is careful to 
point out, a reluctant ruler is more likely to rule well 
than an eager one, for there is a reasonable presumption 
that the man who is eager to rule desires power in order 
to serve some private interest, or to gratify *ome private 
ambition. His main purpose, in other words, is the service 
of himself and his friends, and not that of the State. But 
the man who rules unwillingly, having no private interest 
to serve, can be trusted to devote himself to the interest 
of the community. Thus, in addition to the specific 
excellence of the philosopher, a member of the Guardian 
class has a subordinate excellence which consists in the 
proper performance of his duties as a citizen. This excel* 
lence he achieves like any other citizen by making his 
specific contribution to the welfare of the whole of which 
he is a part, and, since he is by definition a man in whom 
the reasoning pan of the soul preponderates, his specific 
contribution will consist in ruling or governing. 

The Excellence of the Third Class in the State. 
For a member of the third class there is one excellence 
only, namely, the excellence of the citizen. His virtue, in 
other words, is not only inseparably, but exclusively bound 
up with his social position. Upon him, as upon the Guardian, 


falls the duty of making his specific contribution to 
the welfare of the State, but since the relation between the 
parts of his soul is different from that obtaining in the 
soul of the Guardian, and since, because the ordering of his 
soul is different, his class is different, his civic contribution 
also will be different. Broadly, it consists in contentedly 
performing the functions appropriate to the status of his 
class and cheerfully obeying the laws without question. 
This sounds very like the excellence which dictators 
prescribe for their subjects. It must, however, be remem- 
bered that Plato's State was an ideal one, whose arrange* 
ments find their justification in the ideal ends whose 
pursuit they are designed to promote. Moreover, just as it 
is only by subjection to the first part that the third part 
of the soul achieves the happiness which is appropriate 
to it, so, Plato maintains, it is only by obedience to the 
Guardian class and observance of the laws which that 
class has prescribed, that the third class in the State will 
achieve such happiness as belongs to the nature of its 

Twofold Conception of Moral Excellence. We thus 
reach a twofold conception of moral excellence. There is, 
first, the excellence of the philosopher, which is the result 
of a direct insight into reality, which Plato identifies 
in this connection with the principle of the Good. 
This insight qualifies the philosopher to pronounce upon 
what is good in the everyday world, and to recognize the 
type of conduct in individuals and the institutions and 
laws in States which manifest and embody the general 
principles of goodness which his insight has revealed. 
Not only, that is to say, does the philosopher realize that 
this particular action or this particular social regulation 
is good, but he also realizes why it is good. Since in his 
capacity of framcr and administrator of the laws and 
prescriber of the principles of education, the philosopher 
embodies in * the State the vision of the* Good which he 
has enjoyed in virtue of his insight into reality, we may 


say that a State whose affairs are administered by phil- 
osophers, in Plato's sense of the word "philosopher", 
contains the greatest quantity of good of which an earthly 
State is capable. Hence arises Plato's famous prophecy 
that not until the philosophers are kings will the perfect 
State be realized upon earth. Hence, too, his suggestion, 
to which the teleological view of the true nature of a 
thing 1 has paved the way, that any State which falls 
short in its nature of the perfect State is, in respect of its 
deficiency, not fully a State. The development of this 
suggestion leads, as we shall see, in modern political 
theory to highly important consequences. 1 

Secondly, there is the virtue of the ordinary man. Not 
being a philosopher and having, therefore, no knowledge 
of reality, the ordinary man has no direct insight into 
the Good. He cannot, therefore, by means of his own 
unaided vision, recognize manifestations or examples of 
the Good in practice, when he experiences them. 
Hence the importance of so training and educating him, 
that he will hold correct, albeit conventional, beliefs 
about morality and politics. And he will hold correct 
beliefs not because he knows why what he believes to be 
right and good is in fact right and good, but because his 
education has prepared him to take his beliefs, as it were, 
upon trust. And since every State requires a framework 
of law wherewith to regulate the behaviour of its citizens, 
the ordinary man in Plato's State not only believes, but 
does what is right, being constrained by the mere process 
of obeying the laws to the habit of right conduct. 

Thus he achieves such virtue as lies within the compass 
of his nature, holding right opinions about moral questions 
and acting in accordance with them, because of the 
education which has formed his opinions and the social 
and legal framework which governs his actions, this 
education and this framework having been devised by 
die philosopher Guardians with precisely this end in 

See Chapter L pp. 30,31, *b*re. 
See Chapter XV f pp. 60 1, 6oa, 


view. As Plato puts it, the ordinary man does not know 
what is good or why he ought to behave rightly, but he 
does have correct opinions on these matters; or, as some 
modern psychologists would say, he is conditioned by his 
training and environment to think and act conformably 
with the principles which determine the welfare of the 
State. Once again, this conception of Plato's is a fore- 
runner of important developments in later thought. A 
school of writers on ethics, known as the naturalistic 
school, has sought to interpret all morals, both social and 
individual, according to the principle in terms of which 
Plato describes the purely conventional morals of his 
third class. 1 All morality, that is to say, is explained and 
interpreted by naturalistic writers in terms of social 
expediency; it is never the expression of an insight into 
an objective difference between right and wrong. The 
existence of such an objective difference would, indeed, 
be denied. 

Summary. A recapitulation of the main points of the 
foregoing exposition may be useful. 

(i) There is, first, a conception of vocation. There are, 
broadly, two sorts of men for whom there are appropriate 
two sorts of lives. For both Plato recommends in youth 
such training and education as will discipline the passions 
and emotions and inculcate the ideals which are required 
of a good citizen. For the members of the highest or 
Guardian class, however, there is prescribed a further 
education which seeks so to train the intellect that the 
Guardian may become capable of apprehending the 
Forms which constitute reality. For the Guardian class, 
then, there is a further excellence which its members 
possess, not as citizens, but as individuals. This is funda- 
mentally an excellence of the intellect. 

(a) Secondly, the ideal State is a hierarchy of three 
orders, each of which stands in a specific relation to the 
other two. The members of the second and third orders 
*See Chapter X, pp. 351, 35 ** 373-379- 


do not exert any influence upon the government which is 
carried on, albeit unwillingly, exclusively by members of 
the first. Because, hoWever, of the cast of mind induced 
in them by their training and education, the member* of 
the second and third orders are not conscious of what 
-we should call their diifrandrisement, nor do they feel 
a sense of grievance. For the fact that the State is the 
embodiment of the principle of justice precludes them 
from wishing to meddle with matters which do not concern 
their own particular order, the core of justice being found 
in the principle of non-meddling. 

(3) Ilie virtue of the State so conceived is not other 
than the virtue of the individual soul. In the soul as well 
as in the State excellence is to be found in a right relation 
between harmonious parts; the State is, indeed, merely 
the soul writ large. 

(4) The State so conceived is static. Its laws and insti- 
tutions are an embodiment of the principle of the Good 
manifested in the world. They are, therefore, presumably 
incapable of improvement. Since each order is content with 
its status and function the relations between the orders 
cannot alter except for the worse. The perfect State is, 
therefore, an unchanging State. 


(i) That there is No Equality of Opportunity. 
To attempt to criticize Plato's scheme at length would be 
to embark upon an undertaking which would carry me 
beyond the projected confines of this book, whose main 
purpose is exposition. Moreover, most of the criticism* 
which will occur to the contemporary, reader presuppose 
as their basis the acceptance of certain assumptions in 
regard to politics and ethics, which will be revealed later 
in the course of the exposition of the theories which 
embody them. There is, for example, the criticism which 
is based upon the democratic assumption, that every 
citizen has a right to an equal opportunity to the full 


development of his personality. Plato, except for a rather 
grudging admission that children born to parents in the 
third class may sometimes be qualified by native endow- 
ment to rise into the first, apparently ignores this light. 
There is again the criticism which presupposes the assump- 
tion that all men are born free and equal, whereas Plato's 
State denies a large part of what to us constitutes freedom 
the citizen is not, for example, free to live or even 
to wish to live under a different form of government, or 
to leave his own class and canonizes inequality. 

Plato's Reply in Terms of Vocation. Plato's reply 
would no doubt take the form of questioning the assump- 
tions upon which these criticisms obviously rest. Men, he 
would say, are not equal, and freedom has no meaning 
except in regard to function. There are different types of 
men who are fitted by their native endowments to perform 
different functions and to live different kinds of life. For 
eauh type, excellence consists in the proper performance 
of the specific function of the type and in the right living 
of the life appropriate to the type. In other words, there 
is a different sort of excellence for each type of man, that 
is to say, for each class in the State. Now every citizen 
ia Plato's State has an equal opportunity to perform the 
function for which he or she is by nature fined, and by 
training and education prepared; every citizen is, in 
other words, free and equally free to live the kind, of good 
life that is appropriate to the sort of man that he is. Now 
this, Plato would insist, is the only kind of freedom which 
matters. Admittedly, the citizen is not free to choose his 
good lift for himself. Admittedly, his status in the com- 
munity is fixed not by him, but for him: 
Plato might ask, that he should make 
difficult a choice? It is only the Gi 
not only what is right and wrong, wh 
evil, but why the good is good and 
who can form an adequate judgment < 
in such a choice. Now it is the < 


behalf of each citizen what status he shall assume, what 
function perform, what kind of life live. 'In providing 
that the Guardians who are cx-hypothe$i wiser than the 
ordinary citizen should, in the light of their knowledge 
of his needs and character, make this choice for him I 
have, 9 Plato would say, * given the ordinary man the best 
chance of realizing such happiness as he is capable of 
enjoying; for such happiness as he is capable of enjoying 
depends upon the right performance of the functions 
appropriate to his nature, and upon the holding of the 
beliefs which are suited to his status, just as his appetites 
only receive their maximum satisfaction, when they are 
disciplined by his reason. And, seeing that he is not as a 
rule reasonable enough to discipline them for himself, I 
have done my best to provide him with a substitute for 
self regulation in the education by which I have sought 
to train his mind and character, and the laws which 
provide the framework of his conduct.' Plato, one imagines, 
would heartily endorse a somewhat similar sentiment 
which Dr. Johnson was apt to express on the same issue: 

"One evening, when a young gentlexpan teased him 
with an account of the infidelity of his servant, who, he 
said, would not believe the Scriptures, because he could 
not read them in the original tongues, and be sure that 
they were not invented. 'Why, foolish fellow,' said 
Johnson, 'has he any better authority for almost every* 
thing that he believes?' BOSWELL: 'Then the vulgar, 
Sir, never can know they are right, but must submit 
themselves to the learned.' JOHNSON: 4 To be sure. Sir. 
The vulgar are the children of the State, and must be 
taught like children/ BOSWELL: 'Then, Sir, a poor Turk 
jnust be a Mahometan, just as a poor Englishman must 
be a Christian?' JOHNSON: 'Why, yes, Sir. 11 ' 

'As for Ate individuality/ Plato woifld continue, 'this 
is a characteristic which is dependent upon and propor- 
ti0nal r to>the degree of die development of consciousness, 
and mor*- particularly, of the rational consciousness. The 
,of members of the third class must, there- 


>re, in any event remain less marked than that of members 
f the first. Such as it is, it will be developed best by the 
roper exercise of the functions which the individual is 
ualified to perform. For this/ Plato would conclude, 
[ have done my best to provide in my State, and, so 
mg as the philosopher-Guardians are in control, the 
revision will continue/ 

2) That there is No Right of Self-Government, 
lore formidable is the criticism which is based upon the 
dagc, "It is only the wearer who knows where the shoe 
inches." This, as we shall see later, embodies one of the 
asic presuppositions of democracy. 1 Nobody, the democrat 
rgues, can know what it is like to obey laws and live 
nder a form of government except -those who are actually 
ibject to the laws and those who actually suffer the 
overnment. That is one of the reasons, and not the 
sast important of them, why the subject should have a 
Dice in making the laws and choosing the government. 
t may be, in fact it is, the case that people who are im- 
erfect are better suited by imperfect laws which provide 
>r their idiosyncrasies, make allowance for their weak- 
esses and reflect their needs, than by perfect ones which 
resuppose the ability to conform to a standard of be- 
aviour which outruns their capacity* In any event, 
cople must in the last resort be allowed to determine 
>r themselves by what principles the society in which 
icy live is to be governed, even if, owing to their in- 
tpcrience, folly and stupidity, they make a worse job of 
inning society than Plato's philosophers would have done, 
or it is better to be free to go wrong than to be compelled 
> go right. 

Plato would, I suppose, answer that, granted the 
Bectiveness of his system of education, these aspirations 
>r freedom and self-government could not possibly arise, 
or the laws could not conceivably irk a citizen whose 
location had for its sole object the moulding of the citizen 
Sec Chapter XIX, pp. 789^96- 


behalf of each citizen what status he shall assume, what 
function perform, what kind of life live. 'In providing 
that the Guardians who are tx-hypothesi wiser than the 
ordinary citizen should, in the light of their knowledge 
of his needs and character, make this choice for him I 
have/ Plato would say, 'given the ordinary man the best 
chance of realising such happiness as he is capable of 
enjoying; for such happiness as he is capable of enjoying 
depends upon the right performance of the functions 
appropriate to his nature, and upon the holding of the 
beliefs which are suited to his status, just as his appetites 
only receive their maximum satisfaction, when they are 
disciplined by his reason. And, seeing that he is not as a 
rule reasonable enough to discipline them for himself, I 
have done my best to provide him with a substitute for 
self regulation in the education by which I have sought 
to train his mind and character, and the laws which 
provide the framework of his conduct. 9 Plato, one imagines, 
would heartily endorse a somewhat similar sentiment 
which Dr. Johnson was apt to express on the same issue: 

"One evening, when a young gentlexpan teased him 
with an account of the infidelity of his servant, who, he 
said, would not believe the Scriptures, because he could 
not read them in the original tongues, and be sure that 
they were not invented. 'Why, foolish fellow/ said 
Johnson, 'has he any better authority for almost every- 
thing that he believes? 9 BOSWELL: 'Then the vulgar, 
Sir, never can know they are right, but must submit 
themselves to the learned/ JOHNSON: 'To be sure, Sir. 
The vulgar are the children of the State, and must be 
taught like children/ BOSWELL: 'Then, Sir, a poor Turk 
piust be a Mahometan, just as a poor Englishman must 
be a Christian? 1 JOHNSON: 'Why, yes, Sir.'" 

'As for the individuality,' Plato woifld continue, 'this 
is a characteristic which is dependent upon and propor- 
tional to ,the degree of the development of consciousness, 
and mote particularly , of the rational consciousness; Hie 
individuality ; of members of die third class must, there- 


>rc, in any event remain less marked than that of members 
f the first. Such as it is, it will be developed best by die 
roper exercise of the functions which the individual, is 
ualified to perform. For this,' Plato would conclude, 
[ have done my best to provide in my State, and, so 
>ng as the philosopher-Guardians are in control, the 
rovision will continue/ 

i) That there is No Right of Self-Government. 
(ore formidable is the criticism which is based upon the 
dage, "It is only the wearer who knows where the shoe 
inches/' This, as we shall see later, embodies one of the 
asic presuppositions of democracy. 1 Nobody, the democrat 
rgues, can know what it is like to obey laws and live 
nder a form of government except -those who are actually 
ibject to the laws and those who actually suffer the 
overnment. That is one of the reasons, and not the 
&st important of them, why the subject should have a 
oice in making the laws and choosing the government* 
fe may be, in fact it is, the case that people who are im- 
erfect are better suited by imperfect laws which provide 
>r their idiosyncrasies, make allowance for their weak- 
esses and reflect their needs, than by perfect ones which 
resuppose the ability to conform to a standard of be- 
aviour which outruns their capacity. In any event, 
eople must in the last resort be allowed to determine 
>r themselves by what principles the society in which 
icy live is to be governed, even if, owing to their in- 
tperiencc, folly and stupidity, they make a worse job of 
inning society than Plato's philosophers would have done, 
or it is better to be free to go wrong than to be compelled 
> go right. 

Plato would, I suppose, answer that, granted the 
Efectiveness of his system of education, these aspirations 
>r freedom and self-government could not possibly arise, 
or the laws could not conceivably irk a citizen whose 
iucation had for its sole object the moulding of the citizen 
Sec Chapter XIX, pp. 7^796- 


to t the laws; nor could there be any sense of injustice 
among persons deprived of the power to choose die legis- 
lature, since Plato's State is the embodiment of the principle 
of justice and the principle of justice consists, as we have 
seen, in not meddling. 

Given Plato's premises, this is an effective answer. But 
to admit that on Plato's premises it is effective, is only 
to reveal more clearly than we have hitherto done the 
extent of Plato's subordination of the individual to the 
State. It is difficult for the modern mind or, perhaps I 
should say, for the pre-war mind, for post-war develop- 
ments in government have embodied many of Plato's 
proposals, albeit without the vision of the Good, which 
alone justifies his proposals not to feel that Plato is too 
prone to sacrifice, or at least to subordinate, the happiness 
of the individual to that of the social organism; too ready 
to replace waywardness of mind, idiosyncracy of taste, the 
pride of personal possessions, and the love of family by 
abstract devotion to the State, and to hold as of no account 
the thousand and one little pleasures and interests playing 
games and making love, eating and drinking, going on 
journeys, and cultivating hobbies of which in all ages 
the ordinary man's life has been made up, and which confer 
upon most of us such enjoyment as we are likely to know. 
Variety is the spice of life and Plato !s State might, to say 
the least of it, have struck the inhabitants of a twentieth 
century democracy as a little dull. As John Stuart Mill 
was later to observe, "It is not by wearing down into 
uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by 
cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed 
by the rights and interests of others, that human beings 
become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation; 
and as the works partake of the character of those who do 
them, by the same process human life also becomes rich, 
diversified and animating, furnishing more abundant 
aliment to high thoughts and elevating feelings, and 
strengthening the tie which binds every individual to 
the race by making the race infinitely better worth 


belonging to." Our criticism is, then, that, wherea* the 
State is quite obviously made for man, Plato is a little too 
apt to regard man merely as an element in the good 
of the State. Yet "good", it may be urged, is surely 
something that only individuals can attain, and die State 
is nothing apart from the individuals who compose it. 

Philalcthes Speaks for the Modern Democrat. The 
point of view from which this criticism springs is taken' 
so much for granted by the modern world 1 that it is 
unnecessary to develop it at any length. I propose, there- 
fore, to restate it in a form more cogent and succinct 
than I could hope to give to it. Not long before his death, 
G. Lowes Dickinson, a lifelong admirer of Plato, who cast 
many of his writings in the form of Plato's Dialogues, 
published a Dialogue, After Two Thousand Tears, in which 
a contemporary young man, Philalethes, visits Plato in 
the Shades, and converses with him on the subject of 
the contemporary world. Describing the life and lot of the 
ordinary wage-earner, the man who, in Plato's State, would 
belong to the third class, Philalethes criticizes Plato on the 
score. of having made insufficient provision for his ethical 
and political development. The criticism is as follows: 

"PH. Well, all of those, you seem to have been content 
to say, must be left to that kind of work, and need 
not be considered at all, when there is any question 
of what is really Good. 

PL. I admit it. The true Goods I held could only be 
attained by those who were well born and well 

PH. Yes, but even by them, how attained? For no 
sooner had your philosophers, after long education 
and training, caught some glimmer of these Goods, 
than they were to be haled back remorselessly to 
govern the community. 

1 (Or, perhaf*I should say, by the world in which my generation 
grew up. It is coining to be increasingly questioned by the post-war 


PL. Yes. For that was their task and their duty upon 

PH. But It is earth with which we are now concerned. 
And looking at earth might not a critic say of your 
republic indeed many have said it that it is a 
stereotyped herd, where no individual is pursuing 
any real Good, whether philosophy, or science, or 
art, or love, or even happiness, since the excellence 
it has is not that of any class or member, but 
consists entirely in the performance by each part 
of its own function, in order that the Whole may 
maintain and perpetuate itself. 

PL. That Whole, I argued, would be both beautiful 
and good. 

PH. Yes. But to and for whom or what? 

PL. I cannot tell you that, so long as -you insist that 
we shall confine our survey to your earth. 

PH. Let us nevertheless so confine it, as long as we can. 
So confined, you would perhaps agree that the 
Goods you held to be absolute, though they are 
shown for a moment to your philosophers, are 
shown only to be renounced in the cause of duty. 

PL. I agree. 

PH. I have a reason for pressing the point. For, in 
my own time, there has come into vogue a kind 
of parody of your view. The Whole men say 
meaning what we call the State is the end and 
the only end. To it individuals, generation after 
generation, for ever and ever, should be sub- 
ordinated. They have no purpose or function other 
than Its. 

PL. And Its? What is that? 

PH. Itself! Its continued existence and,, growth in 
power and extent. To It are attributed qualities 
often ascribed to Deity. It is jealous; It is revenge- 
t ful; It is merciless; It is violent; It is, or at least 
should be, Almighty. To It belong, without 
reservation, the wealth, the labour, the lives of 


Its citizens. It is the god, they the perpetual 
sacrifice; and their rulers are Its priests. 
PL. Is that what men have made of the doctrine that 
the community is supreme! What close bed- 
fellows are truth and falsehood! But you do not, 
I hope, accuse me of teaching so preposterous?" 

That Members of Plato's Guardian Class are Alone 
Individuals. The doctrines to which Philalcthcs refers 
in his last speech will be developed at greater length on 
a later page. 1 His criticism I believe to be in essence sound 
and, as Lowes Dickinson insists, it has a peculiar 
topical significance. It is, however, only fair to point out 
that the charge of subordinating the individual to the 
State is not one which can be substantiated in regard to 
Plato's Guardian class. At any rate it is inapplicable to 
what may be called the non-civic periods in die lives of 
the members of this class. The Good which as phil- 
osophers they cultivate is an individual good albeit, as 
Lowes Dickinson points out, it is pursued only inter- 
mittently in the intervals of civic duty; and the attainment 
of the vision of reality which is the object of their lives 
owes nothing but the training and leisure which make it 
possible to the State. 

This is true enough, and provided that we can accept 
what amounts to a division of human beings into two 
species, each with its own specific good, it affords an 
adequate answer to the criticism. For the philosophic 
activity and the word "philosophic" may in .this con- 
nection be interpreted to include the spiritual, the intel- 
lectual, the aesthetic, the scientific, indeed all those forms 
of activity whose disinterested pursuit is at once the 
distinction and the glory of the human species of the 
highest class is, in Plato's State, dependent upon the con- 
tented performance of their social functions by the lower 
classes. This contented performance of social function 
being the sole good of which the lower classes are con- 
* See Chmptcri XV, pp. 593-& ** XV* pp* 643-6$*. 


ceived to be capable, it is no hardship that their achievement 
of that good should be made to contribute to the realization 
of a superior and more individual good by the highest class . 
The only comment seems to be that most people today 
would, I think, find themselves unable to subscribe to 
Plato's initial division of the species into two classes. 

Is Plato's State Realisable? It may be asked whether 
Plato intended that his State should be realized. Many 
commentators have written as if Plato's Rtpublu is an 
academic essay in the principles of political theory. To 
this interpretation the apparently static character of 
Plato's Utopia, to which attention has already been 
drawn, lends countenance. Plato certainly writes as if 
his State would, once established, function indefinitely 
without change, and he gives the same impression when 
he treats of the way of life of its citizens. Yet how, it may 
well be asked, could Plato suppose that any association 
of human beings could continue indefinitely without pro* 
gressing or retrogressing. 

The question is a pertinent one; nevertheless, it may, I 
think, be taken as reasonably certain that Plato really 
hoped, even if he did not expect, that his State might one 
day actually come into existence upon earth; that he 
conceived himself, in other words, to be putting forward 
proposals which it was not inconceivable that mankind 
might one day be brought to accept. To quote from 
Pto&ssor Taylor: "We do Plato the greatest of wrongs 
if we forget that the Republic is no mere collection of 
theoretical discussions about government and no mere 
exercise in. the creation of an impossible Utopia, but a 
serious project of practical reform put forward by an 
Athenian patriot, set on fire, like Shelley, with a 'passion 
for reforming the world V It is his passion for reform which 
gives to Plato's writings their peculiar sense of urgency. 
Whether we agree with Plato's proposals or not, it is 
impossible to read the Republic without being stirred and 
moved, As a recent writer who certainly does not display 


an undue partiality for Plato has confessed: "I still find 
the Republic the greatest book on political philosophy which 
I have read. The more I read it, the more I hate it; and 
yet I cannot help returning to it time after time/* 1 

Of very few of the political and ethical treatises with 
which we shall subsequently be concerned can the same 
be said. 


XThe Republic of Plato. Books H-V and Books VIII and IX 
(for editions of the Republic see Bibliography to Chapter I, 
page 41). 
NETTLESHI*, R. L. 'Lectures on the Republic of Plato, Chapter* 


BARKER, Ernest. The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle. 
GRUBE, G. M. A. Plato's Thought, Chapters VII and VIII. 

R. H. S. Grossman's, Plato To-day, contains a good account 
and criticism of Plato's political theory from the standpoint of 
modern democratic thought. 
vLowBs DICKINSON, G. After Two Thousand Years, a dialogue 

in the Platonic manner in which Plato, returned from the 

Shades, surveys and discusses the political problems of the 

contemporary world. 

1 Quoted from Mr. R. H. S. Grossman's book, Plato 




Introductory. It is not easy to summarize Aristotle's 
contribution to moral and political theory. Not only are 
some of his conclusions inconsistent, at times even contra- 
dictory, but the salient features of his proposals are closely 
modelled on those of Plato, and it is difficult to do them 
justice without running the risk of repetition. 

Aristotle has a habit of starting, and starting avowedly, 
from positions which are the antitheses of those of Plato, 
yet ending in conclusions which are scarcely, if at all, 
distinguishable from those of Us predecessor. The statement 
just made would seem to impute a charge of inconsistency. 
The charge must on occasion be admitted. For example, 
the Jficomachaean Ethics, usually known simply as the 
Ethics, which, many would hold, is Aristotle's most import- 
ant work on philosophy, seems at first sight to contain two 
fundamentally different accounts of the nature of the good 
life for the individual. The charge, however, in so fkr as 
it can be substantiated, is a purely formal one. Aristotle 
never revised the Ethics, and loose ends have been left 
which revision would almost certainly have tidied. It is 
difficult to believe that the founder of logic, had he had 
time or occasion to revise his own work, would have failed 
to notice the inconsistencies upon which readers have 
been so quick to seize. 

As to the apparent lack of originality, it is never more 
$han apparent. Although Aristotle's main conclusions, 
both in regard to ethics and politics, differ little from those 
of Plato, he gives them a different emphasis, uses different 

1 384-322 ** 


arguments in their support, and in reaching them contrive! 
to let drop a number of observations about the conduct 
of human life, which are as original as they are profound, 
Aristotle's outstanding characteristics are wisdom and 
common sense. The Ethics, with which we are in this 
Chapter primarily concerned, exemplifies these qualities 
in a very marked degree. The book consists lately of 
lecture notes and has, therefore, little form and no polish, 
while the fact that it culminates in no formal doctrine 
purporting to cover the whole field of ethics, makes it 
difficult to say what Aristotle's general ethical theory is. 
Nevertheless, it is impossible to read the Ethics without 
realizing that one is making contact with a great mind 
engaged in the process of writing, or, it may be, talking, 
memorably about human life. Indeed, there is no other 
work on ethics with which I am acquainted which contains 
so much incidental wisdom, and is so consistently informed 
by common sense, an uncommon possession, especially 
among philosophers. 

Ethics not an Exact Study. The absence of formal 
doctrine Aristotle would be the first to admit, but I 
doubt if he would feel disposed to apologise. At the outset 
of his Ethics he draws a distinction between theoretical 
and practical science. Theoretical science deals with 
matters which cannot be otherwise: two sides of a triangle, 
for example, must be greater than the third: two parts 
of hydrogen and one of oxygen must constitute water; 
they cannot help themselves. Geometry and chemistry 
belong, therefore, to the realm of theoretical science. 
But the motives which lead men to act, no less than the 
consequences of their acts, are complex and variable, 
nor is it possible accurately to determine the one, or 
confidently to predict the other* Ethics, then, deals with 
matters which "may be otherwise ", and the student is, 
accordingly, explicitly warned against expecting too 
much; against expecting, for example, a general recipe 
for good conduct which will apply to all men in all cir- 


cumstanccs. We do not, after all, expect a medical recipe 
which will cure the diseases of all bodies in all circum- 
stances, and men's minds are certainly no less complex 
than their bodies. In the last resort, indeed, every individual 
constitutes what may be called a special case. 

Aristotle's doctrines on the subjects of ethics and politics 
are not, then, he warns us, to be applied too rigidly or 
pushed too far. They apply in most cases and as a general 
rule, but not in all cases and not as an absolute rule. 
One could wish that every writer on the subject had been 
equally modest 

As I have already hinted, Aristotle's doctrines are 
remarkable less for the originality of their conception 
than for the wisdom of their exposition. In the end he 
is found to have done little more than dot the i's and cross 
the t's of the positions already reached by Plato. I propose 
to illustrate this contention by selecting four of his general 
conclusions which, while they are of first-rate importance 
in themselves, follow very closely the lines of those already 
enunciated by Plato. In the course of reaching them, 
however, Aristotle has contrived to invest them with an 
amplitude of scope, a richness of content, and a wealth 
of detail which give them a new significance. 


The first of these general conclusions to which I wish 
to draw attention is an endorsement of Plato's view that 
man is by nature a political being; it contains, therefore, 
by implication a repudiation of the Social Contract theory 
advanced by Glaucon *nd Adeimantus in the second book 
of Plato's Republic. 1 In his work on political theory known 
as the Polifas> Aristotle insists that it is only in association 
with his fellows that man can grow. In isolation he becomes 
"the tribeless, lawless, healthless" being of whom Homer 
wrote, and is likened to an unprotected piece in a game 
1 See Chapter I, pp. ig-fti. 


of draughts. As a matter of fact, Aristotle proceeds, man 
has always lived in some sort of community, whether 
family, village community, or City State. The motives 
which lead to the extension of the human community 
from family to City State are the need for security from 
violence, and the attraction of the more adequate pro- 
vision for material wants which a civic community holds 
out to its citizens. Even the most primitive form of com- 
munity, the family, contains, Aristotle points out, at 
least three persons: a man, his wife and his servant. It thus 
involves not only a certain specialization of function, but 
some exercise in the art of social relationships which we 
must therefore consider to be natural to man. The teleo- 
logical argument which we have already examined 1 is 
then invoked to show that human nature can develop 
only in a community or State and, Aristotle adds, still 
following Plato, it can only develop its fullest potentialities 
in the best State. It is only in the best State, in other 
words, that the good for man can be realized. Postponing 
for the moment the question what "the good for man" 
is, I propose, first, to consider what form of State Aristotle 
regards as the best. 

Aristotle's Ideal Community. More clearly perhaps 
than Plato who, as we have seen, is apt to subordinate the 
good of individuals, with the exception of the minority 
who belong to the highest class, to that of the State, 
Aristotle insists that the specific good of the State is to 
be sought in something beyond the State, namely, in that 
of the individuals who compose the State. "Political 
societies," he says, "exist for the sake of noble actions 
and not merely of a common life." The end of govern- 
ment, in other words, is not the furthering of life as such, 
but die promotion of the good life. Now the forms of 
government which existed in Greece and have, with 
modifications, persisted ever since, are not, in Aristotle's 
view, adapted to this end. Democracy which is in theory, 
1 Sec Chapter I, pp. 36-38. 


and was in the small City States of Greece to a greater 
degree than it has ever been since, government by the 
masses, has for its object not the promotion of the good 
life, but the distribution of equal political rights to all men, 
irrespective of their virtue or capacity. Oligarchy, or 
the rule of the lew, distributes power in the community 
according to men's stakes in it. A man's stake in the com- 
munity depends upon the amount of his property. Oli- 
garchy, then, is a form of government by the propertied 
classes. Many will hold that the so-called democracies 
of modern times are, in the terms of this definition, only 
oligarchies in disguise. Neither form of government 
complies with Aristotle's specification; neither, indeed, 
professes to comply with his specification for excellence 
in the State, that is to say, the promotion "of noble 
actions 91 by the citizens. 

Aristotle's ideal State is, therefore, one in which the 
"best men", and the "best men" only, possess the full 
rights of citizenship. They may be many, or they may be 
few; they may or may not be under the rule of a monarch, 
chosen as bring the "best of the best", but they must 
themselves be the " best." For an elucidation of the meaning 
of the word "best", we must once again await the con- 
clusions of Aristotle's ethical theory. 

A distinctive feature of the good State so conceived is 
its smallncss, for, the smaller the State, the more inten- 
sively will its members, in Aristotle's view, be able to 
devote themselves to the cultivation of the good life. The 
State, therefore, must be as small as is compatible with its 
complete independence. 

Like Plato, Aristotle attaches great importance to 
education. The object of education is so to train the citizen 
that he will revere the constitution of flic State, obey its 
laws, and resist attempts to change them. That all its 
citizens should be trained to adopt this attitude is a 
matter of first-rate importance to the State. Hence the 
State must control education, which will be compulsory 
for all citizens. 


The Good Citizen in the Bad State. But let us sup- 
pose that the State is a bad one; is it still the duty of the 
citizens to revere its constitution and obey its laws? Hie 
question is a difficult one, and we shall meet it again in 
the course of our study of political theory, 1 for one of die 
fundamental objections to any form of authoritarian 
State, to any State, that is to say, in which the mass of 
the people is deprived of a share in the government, 
is that, whatever may be its merits or demerits when it 
happens to be a good State, when it is a bad one, its bad* 
ness is rendered worse by the difficulty of changing it. 
For, being an authoritarian State, it must from its very 
nature exact obedience and induce loyalty; and it must 
exact obedience and induce loyalty to those elements 
in it which are bad no less than to those which are good. 
Aristotle's answer to the question, which ^is logically derived 
from his general position, reveals one of the flaws in that 
position. In an ideal State the education which is required 
to make a man into a goftd citizen, that is, into one who 
reveres the constitution and obeys the laws, will also, he 
contends, make him into a good man. That this contention 
is justified will, I think, become clear when we have 
considered Aristotle's ethical theory and seen how closely 
it is interwoven with his political theory. But if the con- 
stitution is bad, then, Aristotle admits, die kind of educa- 
tion which will be required to cause a man to be loyal 
to it may be very far indeed from making him into a good 
man. Nevertheless, it should, he held, be given and it 
should, apparently, still be compulsory and universal. 
Even when the State is bad and exists for ignoble ends, it 
is, we are told, none the less the business of education to 
ensure that citizens are imbued by "the spirit of the 
constitution". The zeal for public service is, in other 
words, to be engendered even in the interests of evil 
purposes.* Whether this is a statement of what occurs, 

1 See Chapter XIV, pp. 555-558- . , L1 

1 The question obviously has .considerable contemporary interest. 
What, for example, according to the British Tory, is the duty of the 


of what necessarily must occur, or of what Aristotle thinks 
ought to occur } is not clear* The point is immaterial in 
the present context for, -whichever assumption we make, 
the question arises whether Aristotle's injunction does not 
entail treating the bulk of the citizens as political sheep, 
to be led without consultation into whatever pen seems 
good to the shepherd. And, we miist further ask, since 
they are to be educated to like and even to revere the 
structure of their pen, is not the effect of Aristotle's doctrine 
to deprive them of freedom of mind no less than of action? 
The question has a certain topical interest in its bearing 
upon the educational systems of the contemporary Totali- 
tarian States. Aristotle's answer, if he were pressed for 
one, would, I think, amount to an admission of the charge, 
if charge it be. He does, indeed, concede that some men 
may rise superior to an education which has sought to 
induce in them loyalty to a bad State, so that, whereas 
in a good State the good man and the good citizen are 
one and the same, in a bad 'State the good man may 
be a bad citizen. But this concession is extended only 
to the unrepresentative few who belong to Aristotle's 
equivalent of Plato's Guardian class. As regards the 
mass, it must be admitted that his estimate of the 
civic virtue and political initiative of the ordinary man 
is little higher than that of Plato. He is, in fact, content 
to treat the ordinary citizen, even of a bad State, as a 
political sheep. 

Philosophers and Slaves. In the last resort Aristotle, 
no less than Plato, divides men into two classes, for 
each of which there is prescribed a different kind of good 
life appropriate to the different capacities of the members 
of each class. The higher form of good life is that of the 
student. The pursuit of knowledge whether in scientific 
research or philosophical enquiry, the production and 
criticism of works of art, the discipline and contemplative 

good citizen in Bolshevik Russia? What, according to the British 
Socialist, the duty of the good citizen in Nazi Germany? 


pursuits of the mystic, these typify for Aristotle the occupa- 
tions of the higher type of good life. It was, however, 
obvious to him that for the ordinary man they are un- 
attainable. For one thing, the ordinary man has not the 
necessary capacity for their pursuit; for another, he has 
not the necessary leisure. To Aristotle, writing before the 
age of machinery, it seemed clear that there must in every 
State be some whose business it is to produce the neces- 
saries of life, easy access to which is a necessary condition 
of the cultivated leisure of the few. In the recognition of 
thi? need is to be found Aristotle's justification for slavery. 
The State exists, as we have seen, for the purpose of pro- 
moting the good life, but the good life, it turns out, is only for 
the leisured, intellectual few. Whatever, then, is necessary 
in order to enable the State to function, is also necessary in 
order to enable the good life to be lived. Now that a State 
may function, many the fact seemed obvious to political 
theorists living before the machine age must be pre- 
pared to do menial work. In Greece these "many" 
happened to be slaves, but it must be remembered that in 
Greece slaves were comparatively free and comparatively 
well treated. Their lives were, indeed, probably superior 
in amenity to that of the basement servant in the average 
Victorian household. To-day, their work could largely 
be done by machines. Aristotle recognized this possibility 
and points out that mechanical inventions, "inanimate 
tools", may come to render "the animated tools" which 
are slaves unnecessary. If and when the economic system 
adapts itself to the increased productivity of physical and 
chemical science, so that each advance in the delegation 
of dull and drudging work to machines is 
accompanied by unemployment and econonug 
such work will in fact be handed over 
in Aristotle's Greece and, therefore, in 
State, it was done by slaves. We deplore 
justifies it; but before we quarrel with 
must be careful to bear in mind the 
For slavery, in Aristotle's view, 


functioning of the State, is essential to the functioning 
of that which alone renders possible the pursuit of the 
good life* 

The Ordinary Citizen. The foregoing may be taken 
to suggest that the members of Aristotle's State are divided 
into cultivated gentlemen engaged in leading the intel- 
lectual good life and slaves. This suggestion, if indeed 
it has been conveyed, is misleading, for the ordinary 
citizen, as Aristotle envisages him, is neither cultivated 
gentleman nor slave. Aristotle thinks of him as a business 
man devoting his life to his family, to the acquisition of 
property, and to the satisfaction of his desires. In fact, 
he is the ordinary sensual man all the world over. Unlike 
Plato whose economic proposals are, it will be remembered, 
communist in tendency, Aristotle does not disapprove 
of private property. "The possession of private property", 
he naively remarks, "is a source of harmless pleasure, and 
therefore desirable." Communist proposals, he adds, 
will always appeal to the many because of the glaring 
inequalities of the existing system which, it is believed, 
they will remove. But these inequalities are not, in fact, 
due to the system of private property, but to the nature 
of man. Aristotle's remarks on the subject are so charac- 
teristic of the man, that it is worth while transcribing them 
in a literal translation. "Such" (i,c. communist), "legisla- 
tion", he writes, "has a specious appearance of benevo- 
lence. An audience accepts it with delight supposing, 
especially when abuses under the existing system are- 
denounced, that under Communism everyone will miracu- 
lously become everyone else's friend. . . . But the real 
cause of these evils is not private property but the wicked- 
ness of human nature." 

Now the good life for the ordinary citizen so conceived 
is very different from the good life for the intellectual few. 
On its political side it entails the performance of such con* 
duct as is necessary to the maintenance and stability of 
the institutions of the State. But because the ordinary 


citizen is not one of "the best", he is denied the fall rights 
of citizenship and has no share in the government of the 
State. Moreover, he is not entitled or enabled fully to share 
in that good life of the spirit and the intellect which his 
loyal participation in the State renders possible; possible, 
that is to say, for others. Thus Aristotle's doctrine of the 
good life for the ordinary man is directed, so far as its 
social bearing is concerned, to securing that the ordinary 
man shall so conduct himself as to render possible the 
achievement of a different kind of good life by non- 
ordinary men. 

Aristotle's Political Ideal. There is, in fact, a two-way 
process of mutual sustainment between the two sorts of 
good life and the individuals who are respectively engaged 
in living them. On the one hand, as we have seen, the 
achievement of the specific good of the citizen, which con- 
sists in loyalty to the State's institutions and willingness to 
abide by its laws, is necessary to the achievement of the 
higher good by the few; on the other, it is the business of 
the few in their character of statesmen so to direct the 
education and mould the ideals of the many, that they will 
be willing and able to contribute by living the lives of 
good and contented citizens to the achievement of the 
higher good by the statesmen in their capacity of cultured 
gentlemen. Cultured gentlemen, in other words, must, 
in their capacity as statesmen, produce a certain character 
in the citizens whom they educate and rule, as a condition 
of the completion of their own characters and the perfec- 
tion of their own lives as cultured gentlemen. The following 
quotation from Professor A. E. Taylor admirably summa- 
rizes Aristotle's political ideal: "Aristotle's political ideal is 
that of a small but leisured and highly cultivated aris- 
tocracy, without large fortunes or any remarkable differ- 
ences in material wealth, free from the spirit of adventure 
and enterprise, pursuing the arts and sciences quietly 
while its material needs are supplied by the labour of a 
class excluded from citizenship, kindly treated but without 


prospects* Weimar, in the days when Thackeray knew it 
as a lady would apparently reproduce the ideal better than 
any other modern state one can think of." 

Summary. If we demand justification for what, to 
the modern view, seems an arbitrary exclusion of the 
many from the rights and privileges of full citizenship, 
we must find it in Aristotle's division of mankind into 
what arc, in effect, two species* Some men are for him 
natural tools, some the natural users of these tools. The 
natural tools have the bodies of men, but lack rational 
souls; hence they may be appropriately employed as slaves. 
It is necessary, however, to remember that not all the 
inhabitants of Aristotle's State are either slaves or cultured 
gentlemen. There are also ordinary men, whom he 
envisages primarily as business men, who are excluded 
from the government but not from citizenship, although 
Aristotle reserves the full rights of citizenship for "the 

What meaning are we to assign to the words "good", 
"bad", "nobler", "the best", of which in our survey of 
Aristotle's political philosophy we have so frequently made 
use? To answer this question we must turn to Aristotle's 
ethical theory. 

Aristotle's Ethics: Happiness and Pleasure. Aris- 
totle's answer to the question, " What is the good for man? " 
is that happiness is the good. Thin does not mean that happi- 
ness is the sole object of human endeavour, still less that 
it can be achieved by direct pursuit. Whether happiness 
is the sole object of human endeavour, is to be considered 
in connection with the examination of the hedonist 
philosophy to which we are already committed by the 
argument of a preceding Chapter. 1 That it can be achieved 
by direct pursuit is explicitly denied by Aristotle in the 
tenth book of the Ethics, which contains what is perhaps 
the most celebrated treatment of pleasure in the writings 
1 See Chapter II, p. 48. 


of ethical philosophers. Aristotle is an advocate of what 
may be called the by-product theory of pleasure. 1 Pleasure, 
he avers, must not be pursued for itself; it comes un- 
sought to grace activities undertaken for their own sake. 
When our best faculties, tuned up to concert pitch, are 
being actively employed on an appropriate subject matter 
which is worthy of, and suitable to, their exercise, then, 
Aristotle says, we shall experience pleasure. Pleasure, in 
short, is a sign of something else; namely, the healthy 
functioning of mind and body in relation to a suitable 
subject matter. 

To say that the good for man is pleasure or happiness 
is, however, to say very little. We want to know what kind 
of life deserves to be called happy, and how that life is 
to be achieved. Each of these questions must be answered 
separately, and to each the answer, despite a certain 
difference of form, is essentially the answer of Plato. 
Aristotle's answers to these two questions will afford a 
second illustration of his general endorsement of the salient 
doctrines of Plato's ethics and politics. 


Our first question is, " What kind of life deserves to be 
called happy?" If happiness is the good for man, it will 
be achieved by men of good character, that is to say, 
by men of moral excellence. Moral excellence is expressed 
in activity, just as aesthetic excellence is expressed in 
creation. Just as we should never call an artist great who 
never created, so we should not call a man good who 
never acted. Aristotle, therefore, defines human well-being 
as "an active life in accord with excellence, or, if there 
are more forms of excellence than one, in accord with the 
best and completest of them". What, then, is the dis- 
tinguishing mark of the acts in which a good- character 

1 See Chapter XI, pp. 402-409 for a development of this theory of 



expresses itself, or, more shortly, what is the nature of 
right acts? 

Aristotle's answer is that their nature is that of a mean 
or balance. Now a mean or balance is a relationship 
between two or more things. A mean distance, for example, 
is reached by comparing and averaging a number of 
distances, some Smaller and some greater; a balance of 
opposita implies that there are two opposed things which 
are temporarily held in equilibrium. Right actions, there- 
fore, and right dispositions, if they are also "mean" 
actions and "mean" dispositions, cannot be determined 
by themselves; they can be determined only by reference 
to the extremes on either side ef them between which 
they constitute the mean or balance. Just as Plato refused 
to find the virtue of justice in this quality or in that, but 
identified it (both in the soul and in the State) with a 
right relation between a number of different elements, 1 so 
Aristotle finds the distinguishing characteristic of lightness 
not in a single quality of an action, or a single element of 
a disposition; but in a certain relation between a number 
of qualities and elements. While, however, Plato postulates 
three elements between which the desired right relation 
holds, Aristotle specifies two, namely, the two opposite 
extremes between which "the right ", whether in action 
or character, is a mean. 

Aristotle's doctrine is based, at least in part, upon an 
analogy between the mind and the body. The medical 
science of the time, in which Aristotle's omnivorous curiosity 
led him to take a considerable interest, was claiming that 
bodily health consisted in a balance between opposite 
principles, the hot and the cold, the dry and the moist, 
and so on. To disturb this balance was to destroy health; 
too much food or too Hide, too much exercise or too little, 
have, it is obvious, a deleterious effect. As with the body, 
so with the mind. Health of mind, no less than health of 
body, expresses itself in a habit of acting between the two 
extremes of excess and deficiency. A courageous action, 
1 See Chapters II, p. 37 mud III, pp. 69, 70. 


for example, is a mean between the extreme! of timidity 
and recklessness; a generous action, between those of 
meanness and extravagance, while a due modesty is a 
mean between grovelling humility and overweening 
arrogance. And, since a good character is one which 
habitually expresses itself in right actions, Aristotle pro- 
ceeds to define goodness of character as "a settled con* 
dition of the soul which wills or chooses the mean relatively 
to ourselves, this mean being determined by a rule or 
whatever we like to call that by which the wise man 
determines it 4 '. 

Support for the Doctrine of the Mean. Advocacy 
of the doctrine of the mean as the path to virtue is by 
no means confined to Aristotle. Of the truth embodied 
in Aristotle's doctrines popular thinking has always been 
keenly aware. By such maxims as "Nothing too much"., 
"Enough is as good as a feast", "Wisdom consists in 
knowing where to stop", it testifies its recognition of 
the value of the mean. The following is a typical popular 
statement of the doctrine from Lord Chesterfield's letters : 
"The sure characteristic of a sound and strong mind, is 
to find in everything those certain bounds, quos ultra 
citron nequit consistent rectum. These boundaries are marked 
out by a very fine line, which only good sense and attention 
can discover; it is much too fine for vulgar eyes. In 
manners, this line is good-breeding; beyond it, is trouble- 
some ceremony; short of it, is unbecoming negligence and 
inattention. In morals, it divides ostentatious puritanism 
from criminal relaxation; in religion, superstition from 
impiety; and in short, every virtue from its kindred vice 
r weakness." Nor is it only the English and the Greeks 
Irho have recommended adherence to the mean. The 
noctrine constantly recurs in one form or another in the 
writings of ethical philosophers of all ages and peoples. 
The Chinese, for example, are a people to whom a prudent 
moderation in all things appears to be particularly con- 
genial. It is, therefore, no accident that the doctrine of 


the mean figures prominently in Chinese philosophy, 
being explicitly advocated both by Confucius and by Lao 
Tse. Of an ideal emperor of the Tang dynasty, the Chinese 
philosopher Mencius remarked that he "held the mean", 
a phrase which he proceeds to develop by saying that the 
Emperor "used to listen to two extremes of counsel and 
then apply the mean to the people". Describing Chinese 
ideals of life, Mr. Lin Yutang 1 claims that to live according 
to the mean is "the normal and essential human way of 

The virtues of the mean are advocated by the Chinese 
in thought no less than in action. Their adherence to 
"mean thinking" issues in a hatred of abstract theories, 
a disinclination to push chains of argument to their 
logical conclusions, and a resolute refusal to apply logic 
to life. The characteristic limitations of what Aristotle 
calls the practical sciences arc, indeed, regarded by the 
Chinese as applying to all forms of human activity, to 
human thinking no less than to human feeling. For we 
cannot, they say, afford to be logical in thought any more 
than we can in life. 

To the limitations of logic in relation to life Aristotle 
would probably subscribe. He develops his doctrine with 
great verve ami applies it with effect to different types 
of characters and actions. In the course of this develop- 
ment he contrives to say a number of illuminating things 
about human nature and the weaknesses to which it is 
prone. It cannot, however, be said that his applications 
of the doctrine of the mean constitute the happiest part 
of his writings on ethics. The defect of the doctrine is 
that it savours too much of a deliberate and calculating 
attitude to life. The "just enough and no more" which 
it advocates does not, Aristotle is careful to point out, 
imply the same degree of indulgence in relation to every 
impulse and every desire. We are required in each case to 
find out by the method of trial and error, what is pre- 
cisely the "just enough and no more" for ourselves and, 

1 See My County and My PfopU, by Lin Yutang, published 1935. 


having done so, we are enjoined to keep it continually 
in mind and to act accordingly. Moreover, the "just 
enough" for one man may be quite different from the 
"just enough" for another. Every man must, therefore! 
find out his own "mean" for himself and, having found it, 
stick to it. The doctrine, in short, is a kind of spiritual 
valetudinarianism. We are to find out what is good for 
us, and then only to act in accordance with the conclusions 
of our findings. 

The Doctrine of the Mean and Stereotyped Behaviour. 
The attitude to life recommended by the doctrine of the 
mean has also been criticized on the ground that it is apt 
to become stereotyped, Aristotle explicitly defines the 
disposition which expresses itself in actions that adhere 
to the mean, the disposition, that is to say, of moral good- 
ness, as "a state of will or choice". On every moral issue 
that presents itself, the estimate which tells us wherein 
the mean in relation to that issue lies, reflects inevitably the 
character from which it proceeds. It is, that is to say, the 
expression of a certain character state. Aristotle goes out of 
his way to recommend that our estimates of the mean 
should become as habitual, one might almost be justified 
in saying as automatic, as possible. It is, in his view, all 
to the good that, so far as the practical affairs of daily 
life are concerned, we should have formed the habit of 
regularly acting in accordance with the mean, without 
having to give thought to the matter. The following 
example taken from Professor Burnet's writings exactly 
brings out Aristotle's meaning: "On a given occasion there 
will be a temperature which is just right for my morning 
bath. If the bath is hotter than this it will be too hot; 
if it is colder it will be too cold. But as this just right 
temperature varies with the condition of my body, it can- 
not be ascertained by simply using a thermometer. If I 
am in good general health I shall, however, know by the 
feel of the water when the temperature is right. So if I 
am in good moral health I shall know, without appealing 


to a formal code of maxims, what is the right degree, e.g. 
of indignation! to show in a given case, how it should be 
shown and towards whom." This example will serve to 
illustrate the unthinking character of the judgments which, 
in Aristotle's view, the man who has "a settled disposition" 
to act in accordance with the mean habitually passes dn 
questions of conduct It is almost as if the mean were a rut. 
The assertion that behaviour in accordance with the 
mean tends to become stereotyped and uniform may most 
conveniently be illustrated by a personal example. At 
an early period of my life I discovered that, if I smoked 
as many cigarettes as were customary among my friends, 
I failed to derive much pleasure from smoking. Moreover, 
I had noticed that unlimited cigarette smoking produced 
a paradoxical result. Originally adopted as a source of 
pleasure, cigarette smoking was apt to develop into the 
satisfaction of a need. Whereas in the .first stage of 
cigarette smoking one obtained pleasure from each cigarette 
smoked, in the second stage one experienced a feeling of 
discomfort whenever one was not smoking, and was, 
accordingly, driven to light a cigarette not in order to obtain 
pleasure, but in order to allay discomfort I deduced that 
the cigarette smoker expended an ever-increasing quantity 
of time, effort and money, and obtained as a result an 
ever-diminishing quantity of satisfaction. It seemed to me 
to be important to guard against this result, and as I had 
no disposition to asceticism and did not wish to forgo the 
pleasure of smoking, I considered in what way I might 
control my smoking so as to derive from it the maximum 
satisfaction. Finding it difficult, if not impossible, to 
control the number of cigarettes I smoked, I took to a 
pipe. I now smoke four pipes a day, never less and rarely 
more; and generally I smoke them at the same times on 
each day, having one pipe after lunch, one after tea, and 
two after dinner. Thus each pipe is looked forward to 
with pleasure, and no deprivation is felt in the intervals. 
The practice of regulating smoking with the sole object 
of deriving the maximum possible amount of pleasure 


affords a good example of the doctrine of the mean in 
action, but it also emphasises the somewhat stereotyped 
attitude to life which its application entails. To stereotype* 
one's activities in such a way as to obtain from each the 
greatest possible amount of satisfaction which it is capable- 
of giving, may be good advice in the case of smoking, but 
I doubt whether it would be* found to satisfy the require- 
ments of the moral consciousness in cases in which self- 
sacrifice, courage and unselfishness arc demanded* A man 
should not, it might be said, adopt a calculating attitude 
to virtue, or measure in advance the amount of good which 
he proposes to do in the world. Moreover, the doctrine 
of die mean is, as I have already observed, suitable for 
middle age rather than for youth. Youth is the time for 
experiment. A young man should, in common parlance,, 
be ready to "taste any drink once", and there is a natural 
tendency to think ill of a man of twenty-one who, in 
his anxiety to avoid risk and maximize pleasure, keeps 
always in view the middle course which is appropriate 
to middle age. 

Who Determines the Mean. This criticism derives 
support from a further consideration which relates the 
doctrine to Aristotle's political theory. When we ask the 
question, whose insight is it which lays down the rule 
by which the mean is to be determined, we find that it 
is not the insight of the individual whose activity is in 
question, but that of the wise legislator. The resort to the 
legislator to fix the mean is a necessary implication of 
Aristotle's political doctrine. It is the object of the wise 
educator so to mould the pupil, of the wise legislator so 
to frame the laws, that the citizen who profits from his 
educational training and acts habitually in accordance 
with the laws will lead the best sort of life of which he 
is capable. Now the sign of a good life is habitual action 
in accordance with the doctrine of the mean. Therefore, 
in the last resort, a life which is governed by the doctrine 
of the mean is one to which a citizen is habituated, not 


as the result of his own conscious choice, but by training 
and education, and habitual obedience to law. Admittedly, 
it is left for him to choose to what extent the rule by 
which the mean is determined applies in any particular 
case, whether, for example, in the smoking instance given 
above, it is four or five or six pipes a day that the doctrine 
of the mean enjoins. But it is fairly clear that, the more 
closely the individual's behaviour is regulated by law 
and opinion and in both Plato's and Aristotle's States 
it is regulated very closely indeed the more invariably 
does his adherence to the mean, not only as a precept 
which lays down a general line of conduct, but as a rule 
which prescribes such and such particular conduct in 
such and such particular circumstances, proceed not from 
the individual's free judgment, but from the wisdom of 
the legislator which has received embodiment in the laws. 




Virtues of Character and Virtues of Intellect. We 
are now in a position to give Aristotle's answer to the 
second of our questions, namely, how is the happy life, 
that is to say, the life which is lived in accordance with 
the mean, to be achieved? Once again the answer is 
strongly reminiscent of Plato. It begins by introducing 
a distinction between two sorts of virtues, or excellences, 
namely, virtues of character and virtues of intellect. 
Aristotle's distinction brings us back to the discussion on 
an earlier page of the two problems which ethics is called 
upon to consider, the problem, namely, of finding out 
what our duty is, and the problem of doing it. In the 
course of that discussion I pointed out 1 that Socrates's 
doctrine that virtue is knowledge takes into account 
only the first of these problems, and it is with the 
deliberate intention of correcting Socrates's somewhat 
1 See Chapter II, pp. 46 and 51. 


onesided view that Aristotle introduces his distinction. 
It is not enough, he insists, to know what conduct is right; 
we must be able to follow it; nor is it enough to follow it 
blindly, we must know why it is that the course of conduct 
we are following is right, and why it is right to follow it. 
The virtues of intellect depend upon such training of the 
practical intelligence as will enable us to know what is 
right, and why it is right; the virtues of character upon 
such training of the emotions and passions as will enable 
us to do what we know to be right In Aristotle's view, 
the virtues of character are the first to be developed. It 
gradually becomes apparent, however, to the reader of 
the Ethics that, so far as the ordinary man is concerned, 
the virtues of character are not only those which are 
developed first, but the only virtues that arc ever developed. 

The Formation of A Good Character. The procedure 
recommended by Aristotle for the training of character 
is as follows: 

z. The passions and emotions are not, he points out, 
in themselves either good or bad ; they are ethically neutral. 
More specifically, they are the raw material from which 
character is formed. For characters are good or bad accord- 
ing to the nature of the acts in which they express them- 
selves. Now the nature of the acts we perform will depend 
upon the nature of the ends we desire and value, and the 
nature of the ends we desire and value will depend upon the 
way in which our passions and emotions have been trained. 

2. The object of training is, however, not merely to 
make us feel rightly, desire rightly, and act rightly on a 
particular occasion; training must aim at inculcating the 
habit of so feeling, desiring and acting, with the conse- 
quence that it becomes as natural to us to fed, desire, 
and act rightly on all occasions as it is to breathe and to 
sleep. The educator must, for .example, train a man in 
habits of courage,, endurance and control so that he will 
act bravely, suffer uncomplainingly, and conduct himself 
with moderation without having to make up his mind, 



possibly after severe moral struggle, so to do on each par- 
ticular occasion. From this point of view it might almost 
be said that it is Aristotle's object to eliminate altogether 
that factor of moral conflict upon which the Christian 
doctrine of temptation lays stress, the conflict which 
arises when a man wants to do X, but feels that he ought 
to do Y. Some ethical philosophers, for example Kant, 1 have 
written as if duty were always opposed to desire, the 
implication being that we may recognize our duty by 
reason of the fact that it is disagreeable. But Aristotle's 
man of good character will not only do his duty naturally 
and habitually by virtue of the training which he has 
acquired; he will actually take pleasure in so doing. And 
if we ask why it is that he finds right action pleasing, the 
answer will again be, because that is the way in which he 
has been trained and educated. If, however, his training 
has been imperfect, then, although he may perceive what 
is right and good, he will nevertheless be unable to do 
the right and pursue the good. Thus Aristotle seeks to 
correct and amplify Socratcs's theory that virtue is 
knowledge, by pointing out that unless our appetites and 
emotions have been trained in such a way as to cause us 
to desire what is right, the mere fact that we know what 
is right will not be enough to make us do it. 

Virtues of the Intellect Developed only by the Few. 
3. Who is responsible for this all-important training? 
The answer is one with which we are already familiar, 
the educator and the legislator. The educator and 
the legislator are, as we have seen, aware in a 
general way of the nature of the Good for man. 
They are also possessed of trained judgments by 
means of which they are enabled to recognize that this 
particular law and this particular rule of conduct are 
embodiments or expressions of the Good. Like Plato's 
Guardians, they both know the general and recognize 
that the particular is an example of the general. The 
See Chapter VI, pp. atS r tig. 


statesman proceeds to embody this general knowledge in 
his laws, the educator in his curriculum, with the result 
that those who have been trained to revere and to obey 
the laws, those whose opinions have been formed by the 
curriculum, are constrained to take the same views on 
moral questions, to hold the same opinions as to what is 
good and desirable, as the legislator and the educator, 
The general knowledge of the good which is possessed 
by the legislator and the educator, and the insight which 
enables them to recognize the presence of the good in 
particular cases are virtues of the intellect. They con- 
stitute what Aristotle calls practical wisdom. But there 
is no evidence that Aristotle, any more than Plato, con- 
sidered that they were within the 'compass of the mental 
equipment of the ordinary citizen. The ordinary man in 
Aristotle's State, as in Plato's, does what is good as a result 
of his training, his reverence for the laws, and his amena- 
bility to the influence of public opinion, but he does not 
know in general what good is, and he does not, therefore, 
know in particular cases why it is that he should do this 
particular good thing. Aristotle's ordinary citizen, in fact, 
like Plato's, achieves such virtue as is appropriate to his 
attainments and condition, but the virtue is automatic, 
the result of habit, not spontaneous, the expression of 

Preliminary Remarks on Free Will. This conception of 
two levels or grades of virtue, of which one is in effect 
automatic, leads to a consideration of Aristotle's doctrine 
of the Will. Most of those who have written upon the 
subject of ethics have laid it down that, if there is to be a 
morality in any of the senses in which this word is nor- 
mally used, there must be freedom of the will and freedom, 
therefore, of choice. For if, when faced with a choice between 
A and B, a man is not free to choose A and reject B, then 
there is no sense in saying that he ought to choose A. 
"Ought," in fact, as Kant pointed out, 1 implies "can". 
1 See Chapter VI, p. 905. 


Since the notion of ought is essential to morality, the 
conception of free will is also essential to morality, so that 
if a man is not responsible for his actions, he cannot be 
considered a moral agent. If, therefore, Aristotle's ordinary 
man is not to be regarded merely as a well-trained auto- 
maton performing, as an ant performs, those actions which 
are necessary to the well-being of the community to which 
he belongs, if he is to be regarded as a moral agent able 
freely to choose what is right and to act in accordance 
with his choice, it is essential that he should be credited 
with free will. Now to establish the existence of free will 
is an exceedingly difficult undertaking, for once you begin 
to think about free will, you are apt to find, as I shall 
try later to show, 1 that all the arguments that occur to 
you on the subject are arguments against it. Freedom may 
be a fact and we may be convinced that it is a fact, but, 
if so, it is a fact which must be approached only with 
the greatest circumspection; that is why arguments 
between determinists and upholders of freedom almost 
invariably end in favour of the former. How various and 
how formidable are the arguments which may be brought 
against the conception of freedom I shall hope to show in 
Chapter VII. For the present, we are concerned only 
with Aristotle's treatment of the subject. 

What Constitutes an Action ? Aristotle propounds a 
doctrine which purports to claim freedom for the human 
will, and which he officially regards as establishing the 
claim. Aristotle, in fact, shares the plain man's conviction 
of freedom, but it may be doubted whether he has been 
any more successful in substantiating it than other phil- 
osophers who have attempted the task. Aristotle begins by 
pointing out that, when we judge men from the moral 
point of view, assigning to them moral praise or blame, it 
is not so much about their actions that we are judging 
as about the will, or intention, from which their actions 
spring. An action is, after all, only the displacement of 
1 See Chapter VII, pp. 228-245. 


a piece of matter* A limb moves, or a limb causes an 
object to move, with the result that matter is displaced in 
space. Moreover, as I shall try to show, 1 it is impossible, 
to say either where an action begins, or where it ends. 
If I . may anticipate here the fuller discussion which 
appears on a later page, let us take as an example the action 
of forging a cheque. Does the action begin with the neural 
disturbance in die brain that initiates the movement in 
the motor nervous system which controls the fingers, or 
with the travelling of the relevant messages along the 
motor nervous system, or with the movements of the hand 
that takes up the pen, or with the movements of the 
fingers that make the signature? To say that the action 
begins with any one of these is, it is obvious, to introduce 
an arbitrary break into a continuous process. Similar 
difficulties arise when we try to assign an end to the action. 
Does the action conclude with the termination of the last 
movement of the fingers in making the signature, or with 
the movements entailed in blotting and taking up the 
cheque, or in stretching out the arm to hand the cheque 
over the counter? Where in fact does the action end and 
where do its consequtncts begin? It is no easier to answer 
than it is to say where it begins. Difficulties of this kind 
have led many philosophers to deny that actions in them- 
selves are ever the objects of ethical judgments, and to 
substitute motives, intentions, consequences, or all of these. 9 

Aristotle's Doctrine of the Will. Aristotle includes 
both motive and intention in what he calls "choice" or 
" deliberate desire ", and we call will. It is the condition 
of the will revealed by men's acts which, in his view, is 
the true object of ethical judgment. The will as con- 
ceived by him comprises two elements, one intellectual, 
the other appetitive. The appetitive element is our desire 
for a particular result; the intellectual element calculates 

1 For a fuller diictmion of the object of our ethical judgments tee 
Chapter VIII, pp. 287-295- ' 

See Chapter VIII, pp. 287-295- 


the slept by means of which this result mmy be obtained. 
We picture to ourselves the result, the steps which will 
bring it about, and then the steps leading to the steps 
which will bring it about until, as we trace back the chain 
of steps, we come at last to one that Iks within our power. 
This we proceed to take, not because we desire it for its 
own sake, but because we desire the end-result of the 
chain of actions which it initiates. It is with reference to this 
first step that Aristotle defines the will as the deliberate 
or self-conscious choosing of something which it is within 
our power to do. 

We were led to embark upon an account of Aristotle's 
doctrine of the will in the expectation that it might 
modify the somewhat automatic view of human conduct, or 
at least of the conduct of the ordinary man, to which his 
theory of the two levels of morality appeared to point. 
Judged from this point of view, the doctrine of the will 
is deficient in two respects. 

Reason as the Servant of Desire. i. The first is in 
respect of its view of reason* The relation between reason 
and desire in Aristotle's Ethics is a subject of controversy. 
Aristotle often writes, as if he conceived reason to be 
merely the servant of desire. He lays it down, for 
example, that "mm thinking originates no movement". 
This statement is usually interpreted to mean that reason 
does not itself initiate action, but only comes into play 
when the motive force of desire sets it going. The contro- 
versy is apt to be unfruitful, since our view of the matter 
at issue must depend upon the precise sense in which 
the word "reason" is being used. Aristotle is here making 
a distinction between the theoretical and the practical 
reason, and it is only of the former that he asserts that it 
does not motivate action. He certainly did not wish to 
deny the presence of a rational element in choice. Yet the 
whole tenor of his doctrine of the will is undoubtedly 
detcrminist. The conclusions of his determinism will be 
familiar to students of modern psychology. Many modern 


psychologists tend to think of reason as a kind of engine, 
and of desire as the steam that causes it to function. It is 
only when a sufficient head of steam has accumulated in 
the boiler that the engine moves. The analogy illustrates 
the conception with which Aristotle has been traditionally 
credited of the relation between reason and desire; that 
is to say, between the intellectual and the appetitive 
elements in the will and their bearing upon conduct. 
This conception represents reason as being merely the 
servant of desire; but if reason is the servant of desire, 
reason is not free. What, then, is the status of desire? 
Desire and emotion, it will be remembered, are, in Aris- 
totle's scheme, neither good nor bad. They only become 
the objects of ethical judgment when they operate in a 
certain way; when, in other words, they become directed 
to certain ends. Now the ends to which the desires of the 
ordinary man are directed are those to which the educator 
by his system of education, the legislator by the provisions 
of his laws, have directed them. In other words, what we, 
as ordinary men and women, desire is not determined by 
us, but for us. 

The Doctrine of Self-Determinism. 2. Let us now 
consider Aristotle's doctrine of the will in its bearing upon 
his general theory of character formation. Character, it 
will be remembered, is defined as "a settled condition of 
the soul which wills or chooses" to act in certain ways. 
Character, in other words, expresses itself in actions, and 
the will is that aspect of character which chooses the 
actions. By what, then, is the will determined? Presumably 
by the character, for according to our character's com* 
plotion, so do we will. What, then, it is important to know, 
forms the character? The answer would appear to be 
that the character is formed by acts of will. The suggestion 
of circularity in this argument is important, and it is worth 
while pausing to develop it 

Let us suppose that I am a person continually given to 
good works; all my actions, we will suppose, are notjlc, 


none ignoble. Now these good actions of mine must, it 
is said, have some cause. Whence, then, do they spring? 
Obviously from the nobility of my character. But how 
was this noble character of mine formed? Clearly not 
arbitrarily, not out of nothing. Being good is not as easy 
as all that. How then? By training and discipline and the 
habit of leading a good life. But a good life is nothing 
apart from the good actions in which it finds expression. 
By a good life we mean simply a life that expresses itself 
in good acts. Hence a good character is the result of the 
continuous performance of good acts. But whence do these 
good acts spring? Obviously from the possession of a noble 
character, for a good character as we have seen is one 
that naturally expresses itself in good acts. Hence at every 
stage of our career our actions are the determined results 
of our characters, which in their turn were formed by our 
preceding actions, which in their turn sprang from the 
good character which expressed themselves in them, and 
so on adinfimtum. At every stage, in fact, we act in such and 
such a way because we are that sort of person. Travelling 
backwards on these lines we come to the first actions we 
performed which sprang out of the initial character, or 
disposition for a character, with which we were born 
interacting with the environment in which we found 
ourselves placed. 

Now, unless we believe in reincarnation, it seems dif- 
ficult to hold that we are responsible for the initial char- 
acter or disposition for a character with which we were 
born; more difficult still, to hold ourselves responsible 
for the environment in which at birth we were placed. 
We may conclude, therefore, that we are responsible 
neither for our initial character, or disposition to form 
a character, nor for our initial environment, from which 
it follows, if the argument which I have outlined is correct, 
that we are not responsible for our actions or our char- 
acters at any stage of our subsequent careers. 

Now, it is to this doctrine, a doctrine known as Self- 
Determinism, that in the opinion of many philosophers 


Aristotle's theory reduces itself. Aristotte tries to escape 
its implications by insisting that "a man is somehow 
responsible for his moral state; he is somehow responsible 
for what appears good to him". If he is not, then, Aristotle 
agrees, "virtue is no more voluntary than vice, each man's 
end being determined for him, not by choice but by 
nature or in some other way". 

But this does not really help matters, for we want 
to know in what sense a man is "responsible for his moral 
state", since his moral state is formed by his actions. 

Modem Version of Self-Determinism. Self-Deter- 
minism is a theory widely held at the present time. It 
has been developed by modern psychologists and is the 
basis, usually unavowed, of the conception of human 
nature invoked by psycho-analysis. So developed, it 
constitutes, as I shall try in a later chapter to show, l perhaps 
the most formidable body of argument that those who 
believe in free will have to face, and it is worth while 
pausing for a moment to consider what precisely in its 
modern form it asserts, and what are the grounds on 
which it bases its assertions. Let us take as typical of this 
school of thought the views of Freud. 

Freud holds that the origin and explanation of all 
oonscious events is to be found in the unconscious. Our 
conscious thoughts and desires are, therefore, the re- 
flections more or less distorted and more or leqs sublimated 
of unconscious elements in our nature. We do not know 
what is going on in the .unconscious; if we did it would not 
be unconscious, but, in respect of our knowledge of it, 
conscious; therefore we cannot control it. 

If we do not know it and cannot control it, we are not 
responsible for it; therefore we are not responsible for the 
particular version of it that appears in consciousness. In 
other words, we are not responsible for our thoughts and 
desires. Our thoughts determine what we think, our 
desires what we do. If, in short, consciousness is rightly 
1 See Chapter VII, pp. 237-244. 


regarded as a by-product of unconscious processes, it is 
dearly determined by the processes which produce it* 
Conscious events are merely the smoke and flame given 
off by the workings of the subterranean psychological 
machinery of which we are unconscious. 

At this point it may very naturally be objected that no 
account is being taken of the will. It is true, it may be 
said, that our desires and thoughts occur to a large extent 
without our volition; but whether we encourage them or 
not is a different matter; whether we indulge our thoughts 
and gratify our desires, depends upon our wills. It is the 
function of will to control thought and discipline desire, 
and in exercising this control will is free. Thus in using 
our wills to control our desires, to choose this and to re** 
frain from that, we are really free agents. Similarly with 
our tastes; we cannot, admittedly, guarantee that we shall 
Eke doing this or doing that, but we can guarantee that 
we will do this or that, whether we like it or not. But if 
psycho-analysis is right, this traditional account is very 
far from representing the facts. 

Psycho-analysis suggests that the fundamental motive 
forces of our natures are instinctive and impulsive in 
character. Now the will is either one among such forces, 
or it is a sublimated version of such a force. It is, that is 
to say, either an instinctive drive to act in a certain way, 
or, if it is not, it cannot be brought into operation unless 
there is an instinctive drive to use it in a certain way. 
The will, then, is helpless, except in so fai as some force 
which is outside our control enables us to bring it into 

A Modem Theory of Instinct This attitude to the 
will is by no means confined to psycho-analysis. It is 
prevalent in the writings of many orthodox psychologists* 
Professor McDougall, for example, one of the best known 
of modern writers on psychology, holds 1 that die primary 

1 Or used to; his earlier views on instinct have been to some extent 
modified in bis latest work. 


motive forces of human nature are the instincts. We have 
instincts to behave in certain ways. We act in order to 
satisfy our instincts! and, without the prompting of an 
instinct seeking its satisfaction, we can neither act nor think* 
"The instincts," says Professor McDougall, "are the 
prime movers of all human activity; by the conative or 
impulsive force of some instinct every train of thought, 
however cold and passionless it may seem, is borne along 
towards its end ... all the complex intellectual apparatus 
of the most highly developed mind is but the instrument 
by which these impulses seek their satisfaction . . . Take 
away these instinctive dispositions, with their powerful 
mechanisms, and the organism would become incapable 
of activity of any kind; it would be inert and motionless, 
like a wonderful piece of clockwork whose mainspring 
had been removed.'* 

On this view, then, the instincts play a part analogous 
to that of the unconscious in Freud's theory. Even if we 
admit that there is in our mental make-up a separate, 
independent something called the will, it remains in* 
operative, unless the urge of instinct brings it into play. 
Unless, therefore, we are impelled to use the will to sup- 
press an unruly desire, we cannot in fact suppress it. Now 
the drive or impulsion to use the will for this purpose is, 
like our other drives to action, an occurrence which is 
fundamentally instinctive in character, and neither for 
this occurrence nor for its strength when it occurs, can we 
be held responsible. 

What happens is that we are aware at the same time 
of two different urges or promptings to action. The first 
takes the form of an unruly self-regarding desire; the 
second is a determination to suppress the xinruly desire 
in the interests of the good of the whole. If the desire is 
stronger than the determination, there will be a failure 
in what we call will, and we shall be said in common 
parlance to "give way to our desire". If the determination 
as stronger than the desire, we shall perform what is called 
an act of self-denial. This act of self-denial, however, 


just as truly as the contrary act of self-indulgence, will be 
an expression of obedience to whatever happens to be 
our strongest instinctive drive to action at die moment 
Hence, whatever the resultant action may be, it must be 
interpreted as the result of a conflict between two in- 
stinctive drives, a conflict in which the stronger will in* 
cvitably win. 

The truth of this analysis has, say the psycho-analysts, 
been obscured by the use of ambiguous phrases such as 
self-control and self-denial. These phrases suggest that in 
controlling a desire, I am in some unexplained way acting 
in defiance of my nature. But it is only by drawing upon 
my own natural forces that I can defy my nature* If it 
were not natural for me to restrain my desire, I could not 
restrain it, so that in self-denial and self-control I am being 
just as truly self-indulgent as in an indiscriminate yielding 
to purely self-regarding desires. 

Summing up, we may say that, if the view that the basis 
of all action is instinctive or impulsive, that, in other words, 
it is non-rational, is correct, the use of the will to repress 
desire is only a sublimated version of an instinctive drive 
to suppress a desire which we instinctively feel to be 
inimical to the good of the whole. If we desire to pass 
an examination, we will to suppress a desire to go to the 
cinema when we ought to be studying. But the will in .this 
case is simply the expression, more or less disguised, of the 
desire to pass the examination, for which we are no more 
responsible than for the desire to go to the cinema. 

Circularity of Aristotle's Arguments. Now it is pos- 
sible that this account of the springs of human conduct 
may be true; reasonably certain, that it contains at least 
some elements of truth. That it is entirely true, I do not 
believe, 1 although I readily concede its plausibility. 
My present concern is to insist that, if true, it is fatal to 
the notion of freedom; and if fatal to die notion of freedom, 

1 In Chapter VII, pjx 267-271 I have suggested reuons for not 
accepting this view in its entirety* 


fatal also* to any theory of ethics. For, applied to ethics, 
it issues in a circular position. What, we wish to know, 
is a good character? Aristotle's answer is that it is one 
which is formed by good actions. What is a good action? 
It is one that is willed by a good character. 

Aristotle's account of the will in its bearing upon the 
formation of character is not the only instance of a circular 
argument in his writings on moral philosphy. The reader 
of the Ethics cannot, indeed, avoid being struck by the 
frequency with which Aristotle's arguments lead to con- 
clusions whose validity must be assumed, if the premises 
of the argument are to be accepted. I give three examples: 

(a) Human beings, he points out, possess a faculty which 
we should to-day call temper. Temper may assume the 
form of a righteous indignation against wrong-doing, 
or a wilful impatience of restraint. Now righteous in- 
dignation, Aristotle affirms, is good, but wilful impatience 
is bad. How, then, do we distinguish the one from the 
other? Aristotle's answer apparently is that righteous 
indignation is that which we feel against conduct that 
is bad. What, then, is conduct that is bad? It is that 
for which the good man will feel righteous indignation. 

(b) If I am in good moral health, Aristotle says, I shall 
know what is the rightful application of the doctrine of 
the mean in any given case; for example, how much or 

. how little anger it is right to feel on a particular occasion. 
How, then, am I to recognize the state of being in good 
moral health? Answer; it is a state which expresses itself 
in an habitually correct application of the doctrine of the 

(c) What is the definition of a good citizen? He is one 
who willingly and contentedly obeys the laws of the 
good State. What, then, is a good State? One which 
evokes the willing co-operation of the good citizen. How 
does a man come to recognize that the h*ws of the good 
State are good, and such as he may justifiably support; 
how, in other words, does he become a good citizen? 
Answer; he becomes a good citizen as the result of training 


asked to remember that Aristotle's writings have come 
down to us in an incomplete and unrevised form; nor 
can it be doubted that the possessor of a mind as tidily 
logical as Aristotle's would have been at pains, had he 
embarked upon the work of revision, to gather together 
some at least of the threads which are now left in the air. 
Some, but not, it would seem, all, for Aristotle's ethical 
position does entail at least one inconsistency which 
seems to me to be fundamental. To this I now turn. 

The Life According to Reason. The doctrine which 
I have hitherto been engaged in expounding suggests 
that the best life for man is the life of willing participation 
in the affairs of the State. The participation is of two 
lands; for the minority, the "best", it takes the form of 
legislating, administering and educating; for the majority, 
the ordinary men, it expresses itself in co-operating. 
But no conception of the good life higher than that of the 
citizen of the State has as yet been suggested. 

At the end of the Ethics, however, we are introduced to 
a different conception of the good life. Aristotle's thought 
is dominated by the teleological conceptions of which 
I have given some account on an earlier page, 1 and it is to 
teleology that he turns for his profounder conception of 
the good life. Teleology insists that the highest good for 
any organism is to be found in the complete development 
of the nature of that organism. The complete development 
of the nature of the organism is the realization of all its 
capacities and, Aristotle adds, it is the realization of its 
japst- distinctive capacity. What, then, is the capacity 
which distinguishes man? Aristotle answers that it is his 
reason, , Plants and animals live, animals feel, but only man 
reasons. It is, therefore, in the last resort in the life guided 
by reason that the end of man must be sought. But reason, 
he point! out, is of two kinds; practical and theoretical. 
These two kinds of reason are distinguished by reference 
tp their subject matter, the practical reason being concerned 
1 See Chapter I, pp. 30, 31. 


with things which might have been otherwise, the theoretical 
with universal and unalterable truths. Now ethics and 
politics belong, as we have seen, to the realm of things 
which might have been otherwise. In the course of the 
preceding exposition the more important of the pro* 
nounccmcnts of practical reason in the spheres of ethics 
and politics have been enumerated. Thus the function 
of the practical reason in ethics has been shown to consist 
in the direction of conduct by a rule, the rule, namely, 
of the mean; and this, Aristotle is careful to point out, 
is an end peculiar to human beings, since only human 
beings are capable of living by rule. The practical reason 
in politics prescribes cooperation with one's fellow- 
citizens in promoting the welfare of the State. Man, it will 
be remembered, has been defined by Aristotle as a social 
and political being. What is more, he is the only being 
who, in Aristotle's view, can be so defined. Animals, it is 
true, herd, but they do not herd consciously or in pursuit 
of a deliberate purpose. Civic cooperation, then, is a 
distinctive capacity of human beings. In the exercise of 
this distinctive capacity the practical reason performs its 
appropriate function in the political sphere, and the 
distinctively political end of man is achieved. 

The Activity of Contemplation as the Highest Good. 
The theoretical reason is, however, still unprovided 
for. The subject matter of the theoretical reason is, as 
we have seen, to be found in the realm of truths which are 
universal and unalterable; that is to say, it is to be found 
in the realms of philosophy and science. Since the activity 
of the theoretical reason is at once the most distinctive 
and the highest activity of man, it is in its exercise that 
the highest kind of good life is to be found. 

Aristotle goes further and affirms that the theoretical 
reason is an expression of the divine in man, for the activity 
of God is defined in his metaphysical writings as the un- 
broken arid continuous contemplation of those very 
realities which we pursue in science and philosophy and 


succeed at times, albeit intermittently, in perceiving. Thus 
in exercising the theoretical reason in contemplative 
pursuits, we engage in an activity which is not other 
than that of God himself. 

And since the exercise of our highest faculties is also the 
source of our greatest pleasure, the life of intellectual 
contemplation and research is also the pleasantest life. 
It is thus an end to which all other forms of activity 
are in the last resort means. Men engage, or should do, 
in business or affairs, in order that they may obtain leisure 
for intellectual contemplation. The ultimate object or 
purpose of politics is not different Men regulate the 
affairs of the State, not merely in order that the State 
may be well run, but in order that, because it is well run, 
they may be in a position to afford themselves leisure 
for intellectual activity; and just as it is die mark of a 
good headmaster or of a successful business director that 
his intervention should never be required, so in a well- 
governed State the best rulers are those who have little 
or no occasion for the exercise of. their authority. Success 
in statecraft consists, in other words, in Hitniniafrtng the 
occasions for the exercise of statecraft and thus providing 
time and leisure for the exercise of a faculty which is higher 
than that of the statesman. 

Such in summary is the teaching of Aristotle's Politics; 
the conclusion of the Ethics is not different. At the end of 
the Ethics we are told that the best life for man is not 
that of the citizen, although the excellence of the citizen 
must first be acquired before the best life can be lived. 
Now the excellence of the citizen depends upon the 
observance of the rule of the mean. The virtues which 
we have already described, the virtue of the practical 
intellect which consists in the recognition of the mean, 
the settled habit of acting in accordance with the mean, 
the "virtues of character which enable us to act rightly 
without having to pause on each occasion to consider 
whether what we are doing is, in fact, right all these, 
which are integral parts of the good life of the ordinary 


man, are also integral parts of the good life of Aristotle's 
leisured sage. But while for the ordinary man they are 
ends, for the leisured sage they are only means. The 
end itself is for him the exercise of the activity of the 
theoretical intellect Thus the good life is in the last resort 
the life of the mind in the widest sense of the word, whether 
it is devoted to creation in art, to the quest of knowledge 
in scientific research, or to that contemplation of the 
essential nature of things which some men have called 
philosophy, others mysticism. 


It is not my intention to criticize Aristotle's ethical and 
political theories in any detail. One important 'criticism 
of the Ethics, that many of its doctrines appear to be 
circular, has already been indicated on a preceding page. 
The good life of the student and the sage admittedly 
breaks through this circle, but this kind of good life is 
reserved only for the few. 

That its benefits ate reserved only for the few, is an 
objection which many would wish to bring against Aristotle's 
conception of the State. Aristotle is careful at the outset 
to guard himself against the criticism to which Plato's 
State is exposed, the criticism, namely, that the welfare 
of the individual is too obviously subordinated to that of 
the State. That this is, indeed, a fault in a political com* 
munity most writers on political theory are agreed. As 
Dante says in his work on politics, De Monarchic, "The aim 
of such rightful Commonwealths is liberty, to wit that 
men may live for their own sake. For citizens are not for 
the sake of the Consuls, nor a nation for the King ; but 
contrariwise the Consuls are for the sake of the citizens, 
the King for the sake of the nation." 

To embody this ideal in practice was no doubt Aristotle's 
intention. Yet it is only in regard to the few that it is 
fulfilled. For the great mass of citizens he provides only 
" virtues of character 99 , and these, which a*e produced by 



Ethics and Politics Separately Pursued* The dis- 
tinguishing characteristic of Greek thought it, as we have 
seen, the interlocking of ethics and politics. The good for 
man and the good for the State were for the Greeks 
interdependent; the good life could only be lived in the 
State, while the excellence of the State was to be judged 
by reference to its ability to promote the good life. 
With die end of the classical era this reciprocal inter- 
dependence ceases. It does not cease absolutely and at 
once; but from the beginning of the Christian era the 
two studies gradually fall apart, and it becomes more 
convenient to treat them separately. 

Plato and Aristotle are both political and ethical 
philosophers. Their ethical theories cannot be understood 
independently of their political, or their political theories 
independently of their ethical. Of the writers with whose 
views we shall now be concerned, this is not true. They 
can, as a general rule, be classed either as ethical or 
political philosophers and even when, as in the case of 
Hobbes or Kant they are both, their ethics are so sub- 
ordinate to their politics, or their politics so much less 
distinctive than their ethics, that the expositor, whose 
purpose is to give a survey of ethical and political thought 
as a whole, can afford to ignore their subordinate and less 
distinctive contributions. My purpose being to write not a 
history of ethical and political theory but a guide to ethical 
and political ideas, I am concerned only to present these 
ideas in their dearest and most distinctive form without 


referring, except incidentally, to the writers who may 
happen to have advanced them. 

At the point which we have now readied convenience 
of exposition will be best served by treating these two 
branches of thought separately. Indeed, during a period 
of several hundred years they were largely pursued separ- 
ately. The separation continues until well on into the 
nineteenth century. It is only in our own times that the 
two have again been brought together, and doctrines such 
as Communism and Fascism appear, which conceive of the 
nature of the good life for man in terms which involve a 
necessary reference to the nature of the State, or the 
position of a class. It is only in certain kinds of society, 
these theories maintain, that the good life is possible, if 
only because an essential part of the good life consists in 
service to society. 

The reasons for the split between ethics and politics are 
various and interesting, and in this Introduction to the 
ensuing two Parts I shall try to give some account of them. 

The Effect of Christianity. Among the most import- 
ant is -the effect of Christianity. Christianity places man's 
true life not in this world, but in the next While the next 
world is wholly good, this world is conceived to be at 
least to some extent evil; while the next life is eternal, 
life on earth is transitory. For man's life hereafter this, 
his present existence, is to be regarded as a preparation 
and a training, and its excellence consists in the thorough- 
ness and efficiency with which the training is carried out 
Nothing on this earth is wholly and absolutely good, and 
such goods as earthly life contains are good only as a 
means to the greater goods which are promised hereafter. 
An important corollary bears upon our present enquiry. 
The good for man is not, as the Greeks thought, bound 
up with the good of the State, but with the salvation of 
his soul; it is to be realized not in a civic, but in a heavenly 
society. Now' in the preparation of his soul for later 
admission to this heavenly society, the State plays no 


necessary or obvious part Indeed, except for the perfunct- 
ory recognition of its existence implied by the injunction 
to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's ", the 
State tends to drop out of the Christian scheme of things 
altogether, to drop out, that is, in theory. In practice 
the State is a factor very much to be reckoned with, 
making claims upon the individual's attention and 
demanding foe itself an allegiance which is apt to conflict 
with that which he owes to God. Now the allegiance 
which a man owed to God was in the Middle Ages for 
all practical purposes indistinguishable from the allegiance 
which he owed to the Church. Hence, the political theory 
of the Middle Ages is concerned very largely with the 
attempt to reconcile the conflicting claims of State and 
Church* Theorists endeavoured to effect a division of 
the individual into two halves; there was the spiritual half, 
which was responsible to God and the Church, and there 
was the temporal half whose loyalty was claimed by the 
State. Controversy arose over the question, where was 
the division to be made? Both the spiritual power, repre- 
sented by the Pope, and the temporal power represented 
by the ruler of the State, were continually trying to 
encroach upon the half of the individual which was 
claimed by the other as his especial province. It will be 
worth while to take a passing glance at this controversy 
in the form in which it intrudes itself into the works of 
two of the most celebrated writers of the Middle Ages, 
St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante. 

St. Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274). St. Thomas's 
writings on politics will be found in Volumes II and III 
of his comprehensive work, Sianma Theologica. St Thomas's 
philosophy being based upon a Christian foundation, his 
ethical views are such as would necessarily follow from 
Christian doctrines, and do not here call for special 
comment. It is his political views with which we are 
concerned. St. Thomas was writing at a time when 
Christendom was a whole, owning a unified culture and 


looking to a single spiritual head. That man was a spiritual 
being was generally agreed, and the belief in his future 
life was universally accepted. For this future life, earthly 
existence was a preparation, and it was with reference 
to it that earthly duties were defined. What was the place 
of politics in such a scheme? The injunction to render 
unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's had the highest 
authority, and should no doubt be followed. But what, 
in feet, did it entail? The question was one by which 
St. Thomas was considerably exercised. If men's souls 
are immortal, in what sense can they belong to the State? 
If men's duty, and allegiance are owed to a heavenly ruler, 
to do His will and keep His commandments, how can 
they be under the command of an earthly one? What, 
in short, should be the limits. of a necessary temporal 
power over essentially spiritual beings? 

St. Thomas's conclusions may be stated briefly as 
follows. First, man has two natures, a natural 1 and a 
supernatural, and he can live upon the plane of either. 
Secondly, the salvation of the individual soul lies not in 
this life, but in the hereafter. The salvation of man's 
soul will, therefore, be achieved not by his natural but 
by his supernatural nature. Thirdly, the object of the 
State is the promotion of the good of the individuals 
who compose it, that is to say, in die last resort the prepar- 
ation of their souls for salvation. So far, no particular 
difficulty has presented itself, but at this point a problem 
arises. The State must, St. Thomas agrees, possess authority, 
if only to enable it to perform its function of promoting 
the good of its citizens. Yet God is the ultimate authority 
in all things, and his power extends no less over man's 
natural, than over his supernatural, self. Over man's 
supernatural self God's authority is unchallenged and 
supreme, but over man's natural self, so far as it junctions 

1 Thc word "natural" is not here used in its Greek meaning to 
denote the fullest development of a man's potentialities. St. Thomas 
uses it in ft sense *wiucti approximates move closeiy to its modern 
meaning, to denote man primitive, and, on St. Thomas s pfenusei, 
unrry.ncffate, sen* 



in the political sphere, the State, too, has authority. What, 
then, is the relation of God's authority to the State's? 
St Thomas's answer is that the State's authority must, in 
the last resort, be regarded as the delegated authority 
of God. In the first place, God invests with his authority 
the people as a whole. It is in the people that, as later 
writers would have put it, sovereignty resides. The people 
then delegate this authority to whatever form of representa- 
tive circumstances suggest as being the most suitable, 
either to a monarch, or to a talented few, or .even St. 
.Thomas does not exclude the possibility to representa- 
tives of the people as a whole, chosen by the people as 
a whole. But whether the resultant government is a 
monarchy, an aristocracy or a democracy, its authority 
derives from God via the people. 

But now arises another difficulty. Man, as we have 
seen, is not only a natural, but a supernatural being and 
he functions upon the supernatural plane even while 
he is still on earth. Over man's supernatural nature God's 
authority .extends, and in this sphere no less than in 
the temporal sphere, God's authority is vested in earthly 
representatives. Whereas, however, in the temporal sphere 
God's authority is distributed among the people who are 
many, in the spiritual sphere He has a single representative, 
namely, the Pope. The Pope, in fact, is the intermediary 
between God and mankind. Thus two authorities, the 
political and the papal, each deriving its authority 
from God, confront each other. How are their respective 
claims to be adjusted? St. Thomas solves the difficulty by 
saying that in all cases of dispute the last word rests with 
die Pope. The Pope, in other words, is pre-eminent ova* 
any earthly ruler. This solution was not, however, one 
that the political authorities were always prepared to 
accept, for though in theory the opposition was between 
man's natural and his supernatural natures, it expressed 
itself in practice in a struggle between two all-too-human 
authorities* As Darrcll Figgis puts it in his Churches in the 
Modern Stale, " When " (in mediaeval times) "conflict is spoken 


of between Church and State it is a conflict between 
two bodies of officials, the civil and the ecclesiastical." 
The wars between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, 
although in theory the matter at issue was the division of 
power between the temporal and the spiritual authorities, 
were in fact a conflict between these "two bodies of 

Views of Dante (1265-1321). The problem of the 
relation between the temporal and the spiritual power 
is also discussed in Dante's famous work De Monarchic, 
which appeared in 1310. While St. Thomas maintained 
that the temporal ruler was in the last resort subordinate 
to the spiritual, Dante sought to effect a complete separa- 
tion between the two spheres, a separation which would 
leave each authority paramount in its own. Dante shares 
the general prc-suppositions of St. Thomas's thought. 
Man, he would agree, has his being upon two planes, 
the natural and the supernatural, and his ultimate salva- 
tion is to be found upon the latter. He also held that it 
is to the next world rather than to this one that we must 
look for the fulfilment of man's spiritual being. "Provi- 
dence," he wrote, "has set two things before man to be 
aimed at by him: the blessedness of this life which consists 
in the exercise of his proper power and is represented 
by the Earthly Paradise; and the blessedness of eternal 
life, which consists in the fruition of the sight of God, to 
which his proper power cannot ascend unless assisted by 
the divine light. . . . Now to these two ends n&n must 
attain by different means." 

So far as the means to the "Earthly Paradise" are 
concerned, Dante was prepared to follow the Greeks, 
defining man, as Plato and Aristotle defined him, as a 
social being whose end is the realization of all his 
potentialities and, more particularly, of the potentialities 
of the intellect. The achievement of this end entailed 
co-operation with his fellows in society; for, Dante main- 
tained, "no man was abb to obtain felicity himself without 


the aid of many, inasmuch as he needs many things which 
no one is able to provide alone * The State, then, and 
man's life in the State, is important in and for itself. 
Thus, while Dante conceded the primacy of God's 
appointed representative, the Pope, over man's spiritual 
life, he demurred to St. Thomas's assertion of the com- 
petence of the spiritual authority on the temporal plane. 
The two planes, the spiritual and the social, were, he 
maintained, distinct. Hence Dante repudiated the Pope's 
claim to temporal authority, affirming that man's earthly 
affairs and, in particular, his civic duties, were the concern 
not of the Pope, but of the State. Now the State, Dante 
held, must be under the control of a single monarch, 
since otherwise the existence of factions will make it 
impossible to preserve peace, and in all matters pertaining 
to man's welfare here on earth the temporal monarch 
should, Dante insists, be free from interference by the 
Pope. But the greater the power with which in the interests 
of peace it is necessary to endow the monarch, the more 
important is it that he should be wise and benevolent. 
For his possession of wisdom and benevolence we can 
only trust to God's goodness. 

Dante on the World Ruler and the World State. 
Not content with making his earthly monarch absolute 
in the sphere of the State, Dante sought to extend the 
scope of his authority beyond the limits of the State. 
Writing as a member of a society torn by factions, in a 
world which had yet to escape from the welter of perpetual 
fighting which was the Middle Ages, Dante insists again 
ami again that the primary need of mankind is peace. 
Peace is, indeed, for him the pre-eminent political 
good of man's earthly life, if only because it is the indis- 
able condition of the acquirement and the enjoyment 

of all other goods. The activity of the speculative intellect, 
for example, which, following Aristotle, Dante valued 
above all other earthly activities, can be exercised only 
in a secure environment. Hie mystic cannot meditate, 


the philosopher speculate, the artist create, or the scientist 
pursue research, if his tranquillity is threatened by the 
bandit who may at any moment slit his throat, or assault 
his wife. Peace, then, Dante saw, is the condition of all 
other goods, and peace can best be secured by the inclusion 
of all mankind in a single World State. The nearest 
approach to such a World State that Dante knew was 
the Holy Roman Empire. Aware as he must have been 
of its deficiencies, he nevertheless looked to it as the germ 
from which the World State might develop. Dante's hopes 
in this direction depended, or so he thought, for their 
fulfilment upon the absolute supremacy of the monarch in 
the temporal sphere. If the monarch was to become a world 
monarch, he must, from the first, be an absolute monarch. 

To the obvious objection that this is to entrust a single 
individual with dangerous powers, Dante replies that a 
universal monarch would be exempt from most of the 
temptations to- misrule that beset a national one. Having 
no rival to fear, for he would be the world's sole ruler, 
and no ambition to pursue, for there could be no earthly 
condition higher than his, he would have no incentive to 
rule otherwise than in accordance with the deliverances 
of wisdom and the dictates of justice. Dante's universal 
monarch, in fact, resembles one of Plato's Guardians 
transferred from the stage of the Greek City State to that 
of the world. Under such an one, Dante maintains, man's 
true freedom can alone be achieved; but as a condition 
of its achievement, his dominion must be universal and 
his power absolute. 

Holding these views, it was inevitable that in the struggle 
between the Empire and the Papacy Dante shoqld range 
himself on the side of the former. Although credit must be 
given to Dante for being one of the first to envisage the 
idea of world government as the ultimate solution of the 
quarrels that divide and the wars that devastate mankind, 
he does not develop his proposals for world govern- 
ment in any detail. It remains for him at best a shadowy 
ideal, the sole way of escape from the perpetual strife 


between warring States, just as his notion of a single 
absolute ruler blessed by God is conceived by him as the 
only way of overcoming the perpetual strife of waning 
factions within the State* 

Lack of Political Theory in the Middle Ages. 
Dante's visions of an ideal World State and an ideal 
World Ruler in no sense constitute a political theory. 
Indeed, it cannot be said that the Middle Ages produced 
any coherent body of thought worthy to be dignified by 
that title. Apart from the controversy which continued 
for over a hundred years over the delimitation of the 
spheres of the spiritual and temporal powers, a controversy 
which sprang inevitably from the universal acceptance of 
the conception of man's dual nature, the Middle Ages 
have little to show in the way of political wisdom save 
rules for the government of men and instructions for the 
expedient conduct of affairs of State. 

Machiavelli (1469-1527). How far removed are these 
rules from any theory of the nature of the State, its 
origin, purpose and underlying principles, can be seen 
from a glance at the political thought of Machiavelli. 
Machiavelli's work on politics, Dt Principatibus, is thus 
described by the author: 

"I have made/ 9 he says, "a treatise, Dt Principatibus, 
where I go to the depth of my ability into the consideration 
of this matter, discussing what is the nature of sovereignty, 
what kinds of it there are, how they are acquired, how 
maintained, and for what causes lost." He describes his 
treatise, that is to say, as an enquiry into natural history. 
What, he wants to know, are the methods by which despotic 
rulers, such as then abounded in Italy, may successfully 
consolidate their power. 

The description accurately fits the work. It is, in fact, 
a handbook of statecraft, a guide for those who would 
maintain and extend their power. Thus, if power has 
been gained by certain means, it must, Machiavelli holds. 


be maintained by similar means. The assumption through- 
out is that the holder of power is not required to take 
account of morals, expediency bring his sole guide to 
conduct. Given that he has certain ends, security for his 
person and unquestioned dominion over his subjects, by 
what means, Machiavelli asks, may these ends be most 
effectively realized? 

But although the sole motive recognized throughout 
Machiavelli's treatment of politics is that of self-interest, 
it is not strictly correct to say that morals are left out 
of the writer's purview. Machiavelli does treat of morals 
and also of religion, but only as instruments to be used 
to his advantage by the intelligent ruler. The foundations 
of morals and religion are not objective principles or 
factors in the universe existing independently of man 
and recognized by him; there are, indeed, no such 
principles and man cannot, therefore, recognize them, 
or guide his conduct by reference to them. Morals being 
excluded from the scheme of things, there can be no 
guide to conduct except self-interest. Nevertheless morals, 
though they possess no objective basis, may be usefully 
invoked by rulers to induce in the common people reverence 
and obedience. Morals have, in fact, as we should say 
to-day, good publicity and propaganda value. All this, 
it is clear, is neither ethics nor politics. It may, of course, 
be the case that both these branches of study are in fact 
will-o'-the-wisps; that there are no principles of right 
and wrong which should govern human conduct, no 
principles of justice which should guide the ruler of the 
State. But if it be the case that ethics and politics own 
some basis of principle other than that of pure expediency, 
then it cannot be said that Machiavelli contributes to 
their study. His work is, as he himself suggests, properly 
to be regarded as a contribution to our knowledge of 
natural, that is of human, history. 

The Split Widens. It is, I think, sufficiently clear from 
the foregoing examples of political thought in the Middle 


Ages, that ethics and politics have already fallen apart* 
Whereas in Plato's and in Aristotle's thought civic duty 
constituted an integral part of the good life for man, 
whether as ruler or as citizen, in the thought of St. Thomas 
civic duty is merely an incidental adjunct to man's true 
welfare which is moral and spiritual, while in Dante's view 
the virtues of the good citizen, albeit desirable in themselves, 
belong to man's earthly and not to his spiritual self. 
St. Thomas holds that man's spiritual life is bound up 
with the development of his soul, while morals derive their 
sanction from the next world. Dante admittedly writes of 
the full development of man's intellectual faculties as 
an end in itself, and of the State as a necessary means 
to that end, but for him, too, the true home of die spirit 
is elsewhere. Speaking generally, we may say that for 
the Middle Ages our existence in this world and, therefore, 
in the State, is looked upon as a rather discreditable 
episode in the career of beings who are intended for higher 
things. The fact of earthly existence is regrettable, but 
only temporary. The object of politics is, therefore, to organ- 
ize the collective aflairs of mankind in such a way that our 
time here m&y be spent with as little temporal preoccupa- 
tion and as little spiritual danger as can be contrived. 
Some may be inclined to protest that this is to over- 
emphasize the neglect of political issues by the thinkers 
of the Middle Ages. Yet it is impossible to read the School- 
men without deriving the impression that they think of 
the State and of everything connected with the State as 
a niriiffliKtt, necessary no doubt, but unimportant; un- 
important, that is to say, relatively to the real business of 
the individual soul which is to prepare itself for salvation. 
With the coming of the Reformation, the split widened. 
Man's life in the Middle Ages was at least a whole. 
Christendom offered to those who were members of it 
and they were practically all those who belonged to what 
we should now call Western Civilization the doctrines 
of a single Church, These were accepted as part of a 
revelation which all acknowledged, while, in the sphere 


of conduct, men's lives were guided by a universal code 
whose authority none thought of questioning. Ethics, 
therefore v no longer presented a series of problems to be 
pondered; it announced a series of truths which were 
revealed, the revelation being of God's will as interpreted 
by the Catholic Church. By following the rules of revealed 
ethics, by accepting the teachings of inspired authority, 
the individual lived aright in this world and achieved 
salvation in the next. 

But with the advent of Protestantism salvation becomes 
a goal which can be achieved without the help of organis- 
ations, while the mode of life necessary for its achievement is 
one to be determined by the insight of his individual 

In Protestant countries men no longer looked to .the 
Church to prescribe their way of life; they consulted the 
Bible or listened to the voice of conscience, preferring 
private inspiration to official instruction. Thus the import- 
ance of the individual increased, as that of the Church 

The Effect of Protestantism. One of the greatest of 
the additions which Christianity had made to men's moral 
outlook was a sense of the value of the individual soul 
or person. Jesus had insisted that men should be treated 
as ends in themselves, not as means to ends beyond them- 
selves. It would, indeed, have been impossible for any 
writer on ethics who accepted Christ's teaching to relegate 
the vast mass of citizens to the status which they tend to 
occupy in the writing of Plato and Aristotle, the status, 
that is to say, of instruments of a good which lay outside 
and beyond themselves in the achievement of intellectual 
perfectibility by the cultivated few. 

Except in the Western democracies, the modern con- 
ception of the individual approximates in some respects 
to that of Plato and Aristotle. He is treated as a means 
to the welfare of the social organism of which he is a 
part His raison <f Art, that is to say, consists in promoting 



the excellence of something other than himself, albeit of 
something which, according to idealist theory, is immanent 
in himself. 1 These modern conceptions would have seemed 
impious to those who were animated by the spirit of 
Christ's teaching, for the essential fact about the individual, 
as Christ represented him, was that he was a soul to be 
saved. To compass the salvation that Christ's sacrifice 
had rendered possible for him, was from the Protestant 
standpoint an end transcending in importance all other 
ends which the State might set before him, or which he 
might set before himself. His duty, in fact, was whole- 
heartedly to do God's will, and God's will resides neither 
in the laws of the State, nor in the edicts of a Church, but 
in the hearts of men. To discover this will it is necessary to 
listen to the inner voice of conscience. 

In thus substituting an ideal realizable by individual 
effort for one which could be achieved only by co-opera- 
tion with one's fellow-men in the civic life, Protestant 
Christianity tended to leave the State outside its scheme 
of things. The ethical theories which it inspired came, 
therefore, to treat of conduct independently of politics, the 
art of science or politics being left meanwhile to look after 

Other Factors Assisting the Split. Left to look after 
itself, the doctrine which it adopted was that of the Social 
Contract. A pre-social state of nature was postulated which 
was ended by a compact or contract to form society. 
Social Contract theories, as we shall see in a later chapter,* 
dominated the political thought of the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries, and essentially they re-affirmed the 
attitude to society adopted by Glaucon and Adeimantus.* 
The tendency to regard society as an artificial rather than 
a natural growth is not only compatible with, it is encour- 
aged by, the Christian view of human nature and of the 
appropriate end of human endeavour, indicated to above. 

1 See Chapter XV, pp. 590, 591 and 597, 598. * See Chapter XIII. 
1 See Chapter I, pp. 19-24. 


For if the essential nature of man is to be a soul or spirit, 
if his specific end is the salvation of his soul and the 
development of his spirit, it is no longer possible to main- 
tain the Greek view of man's nature as something which 
finds its fulfilment only in the State. 

.So long as it was thought that the true end of man could 
be realized only in society, society could be plausibly 
represented not only as an indispensable condition, but 
as an integral part of his development. When, however, 
the realization of man's true end was postponed to the 
next world, the case for regarding the State as both natural 
and indispensable to him lost its force. Hence theories 
arose which represented society not as a natural, but as 
an artificial growth, developing not as an integral part 
of man's nature, but as a device to suit his convenience. 
Once again the cable was cut between society and morals; 
and politics, as a result, could be pursued independently 
of ethics. 

Influence of View of Man as a Reasonable Being. A 
further influence arising from a different source operated 
in the same direction. The eighteenth century has often 
been called the Age of Reason. In contradistinction to the 
Christian view that man's real nature was that of a soul 
to be saved, or a spirit to be developed, men like Voltaire, 
Hume, Godwin, Paine and Adam Smith, insisted that it 
was that of a reasonable and reasoning being. The opera- 
tions of reason might, they held, be warped by prejudice, 
obscured by passion, distorted by emotional bias. Reason 
could, however, on occasion win free from these influences. 
To the extent that it did so, to the extent that man became 
reasonable in his disposition, objective and impartial in 
his judgment and serene in his outlook, to that extent he 
realized his true nature. In so far as man achieves this 
condition of being reasonable, he stands in no need of 
external rules or regulations; for he has only to consult 
his reason and it will tell him what is best Moreover, 
since it is reasonable to do what is best, he will act as his 


reason advises* From the point of view of the reasonable 
man, then, the State in to coercive aspect is superfluous. 
There is no need to make laws for those who are exempt 
from the necessity for regulation; there is no need to dis- 
pense justice for those who can determine and follow 
what is just for themselves; there is ftb need for the State 
to compel those whom reason controls. 

Even the eighteenth century recognized that it might 
be a long time before man achieved such a condition of 
reasonableness as would enable him to dispense with the 
State, but, though the unregulated society lay far away in the 
future, approximations to it could be made in the present; 
could be made, and should be encouraged. The effect of 
this line of thought is seen in a somewhat negligent, even 
contemptuous attitude to politics. The State in its coercive 
aspect, with its apparatus of law and police force to back 
the law, is no doubt necessary in man's unregenerate, 
that is to say, imperfectly reasonable, condition, but, as 
man develops, and as, therefore, he approximates ever 
more closely to his proper nature, which is to be a per- 
fectly reasonable being, the State will become increasingly 
superfluous. Utopia is thus conceived as a society of 
perfectly reasonable men who, acting always in accordance 
with the dictates of their natures, will have no need of 
external restraints to regulate their relations. Godwin 
( 1 756-1836), who pushed this attitude to its logical end, was 
an anarchist, but throughout the writings of the rationalists 
of the eighteenth century, the tendency to treat the good 
life for man as something that can be realized independently 
of the State in the achievement of that reasonableness 
which is natural to human beings, is apparent As a 
consequence, ethical questions are diirmsrd independently 

of political. 

, ' 

The various considerations at which I have briefly 
glanced, die Christian insistence on the salvation of the 
individual soul as the true end of man, the resultant 
attitude to the State as an artificial growth owning no 


counterpart in and deriving no roots from man's real 
nature, and the eighteenth-century view of man as an 
essentially reasonable being, contribute to produce what 
I have called the split between ethics and politics. They 
must serve as my excuse for treating ethics and politics 
in Parts II and III as two distinct branches of enquiry. 
In Part IV the two strands which have been separated 
again come together, and in the twentieth century we shall 
again pursue what are in effect two aspects of a single 



Subject Matter of Ethics. Ethics is a branch of study 
which is difficult to define, for, if we put the question, 
" What are the subjects with which ethics deals, what, 
in fact, is ethics about?" the answer is largely determined 
by the nature of the ethical views which we adopt. This 
is true not only of the boundaries of the subject, but also 
of its core, a writer's view of both being dependent upon 
and largely determined by the adoption of a particular 
ethical position. 

Some of the questions which have been considered by 
different writers to be the central questions of ethics are: 

(i) What thing is ultimately good, or, if there is more 
than one thing which is ultimately good, what things 
are ultimately good? 

(a) What is the basis of moral obligation? If we take 
the view that the word "ought" does mean something, 
that, in other words, there may be a distinction, and a 
valid one, between what we ought to do and what we 
would like to do, it may be asked, "Why 'ought 9 we to 
do what we ought to do?" The correct answer to this 
question, if it could be given, would tell us what moral 
obligation is. 

(3) By means of what faculty do we recognize our moral 
obligation? Is it reason or feeling, or a mixture of the two, 
or a unique faculty sometimes known as the moral sense, 
sometimes as conscience, which tells us our duty as im- 
mediately, if not as unerringly, as our sense of taste tells 
us what tastes sweet and what sour, and our sense of 
smell which odours are pleasant, which repulsive? 

(4) What do we mean by a right action? Is it, for 
example, the same as the action which we think we ought 


to do, or the same as the action which we ought to do, 
whether we think we Ought to or not? Can we, in other 
words, be mistaken in our judgment, when we think we 
ought to do a particular action, so that, although we may 
have thought quite sincerely that we ought to do X, 
what we realty ought to have done was Y, because Y was 
right and X was not? When in such cases we speak of 
what we really ought to have done, using such an 
expression as "it wias right to do Y although, having regard 
to the information available at the time, you could not 
have acted otherwise than you did, when you chose to 
do X," what is the meaning of the word "right"? Is a 
"right" action one which is right independently of what 
the agent, or any person, or any body of persons, thinks 
or think about it? Or is "right** only the name we give 
to the sort of action of which a particular society, or a 
particular civilization, or mankind in general, happens to 

(5) How are we to distinguish a right action from a 
wrong one? Is it, for example, by reference to some intrinsic 
characteristic which right actions possess, but which wrong 
ones do not, or by reference to the consequences of the 
actions? If the latter, since the consequences of any action 
are various and illimitable, which consequences ought we 
to take into account? Is it, for example, by reference to 
its happiness-promoting properties that the rightness of an 
action is to be judged? If so, whose happiness* ought we 
to take into account in passing our judgment? That of the 
agent, of certain particular persons, or of all persons? 
Should we, that is to say, regard the happiness of certain 
persons, namely, those standing in a close relation to the 
agent, as being of special relevance when we are considering 
the consequences of a right action? Or is the happiness of 
every person entitled to be considered as of equal import- 

The above are only some of the questions with which 
writers on ethics concern themselves. 


Difficulty of Ethical Questions. They are, it is obvious, 
exceedingly difficult to answer; so difficult, that it seems 
improbable that they will ever be answered in a manner 
which commands universal assent. It is certainly the case 
that up to the present no agreed answers have been pro- 
pounded. If they had, human life would be a simpler 
affair than it is. 

A number of obvious difficulties immediately suggest 

POSITIONS. There is the difficulty of giving any answer 
to an ethical question which can be proved to be true to 
those who challenge it. In this respect ethics is at a dis- 
advantage as compared with mathematics or with science. 
A mathematical statement which is true can be proved 
to be so to anyone who has sufficient intelligence to grasp 
the proof. Thus, if I assert that any two sides of a triangle 
are greater than a third, or that a 1 -b l =(a+b)(a~b), I 
should expect to be able 'to show that my assertion was 
true, aild also why it was true, to anyone who possessed 
normal intelligence. If, supposing that my demonstration 
were both clear and correct, I found at the end that I 
had failed to convince him, I should judge that his intelli- 
gence was not such as is proper to, or customary among, 
adult human beings. It is, of course, true that my demon- 
stration would entail the acceptance of certain undemon- 
strable principles. It would entail, for example, acceptance 
of the laws of logic and of the processes of inference 
and deduction, the truth and legitimacy of which are 
intuitively perceived. 1 But the acceptance of these laws, 
the performance of these processes, are common to all 
normally intelligent human beings. Similarly with science; 
if I wish to show that HO is the chemical formula for 
water, I have only to associate two parts of hydrogen and 
one of oxygen, to demonstrate to anybody who cares to 

1 See my Gbufr to Philosophy, Chapter V, for an account of undemon- 
strabk logical law. 


question it the truth of the formula. In other words, I can 
verify * scientific assertion by experiment But the answers 
to ethical questions can neither be logically demonstrated 
nor experimentally verified. 

In the absence of both proof and verification, it is always 
possible to represent any answer that may be given to 
ethical questions as the expression of a purely personal 

examination of the questions mentioned above it will be 
be seen that they overlap, in the sense that the answer to 
any one of them would entail answers to at least some of 
the others. If, for example, we answer the question, "what 
is it that makes an action right?" by saying "its conse- 
quences", we shall by implication have excluded the 
answer that by a right action we mean one that wins 
the approval of the moral sense. For an action whose 
consequences tore good is often disapproved of by the 
moral sense, at any rate at the 'time, and vice versa. 

If, again, we hold that there is one ultimate good and 
only one, and we identify this one ultimate good with 
happiness, we shall by implication have answered the 
question, "what is the basis of moral obligation?", for 
we should surely be morally obliged to promote what is 
good, and if good is happiness and only happiness, it 
becomes our duty, it becomes, indeed, our sole duty, 
to promote happiness. Thus we shall have derived the 
notion of moral obligation from the notion of good. Alter- 
natively, we may say that the only thing that is ulti- 
mately good is to do our duty, in which case the notion 
of good will be derivable from that of moral obligation. 
From these examples it will be seen that the overlap 
between ethical questions is considerable; so considerable 
that, if we could agree as to the central problem of ethics 
and suggest an answer to that, it would probably be found 
that it brought with it answers to all the other problems 
in its train. But it is precisely upon this question, the 


question of the central problem of ethics, that philosophers 
differ most Whereas the Greeks, for example, held that 
the basic notion of ethics was good, or the Good, and 
deduced, therefore, that the main problem of ethics 
was to discover the Good, Kant and other eighteenth 
century writers held that the bane notion of ethics was 
that of moral obligation, and that the main problem of 
ethics was to discover its ground or source. 

DISTINCT. In spite of overlapping, the expositor is bound, 
so far as he can, in the interests of clarity to treat the 
various questions which I have mentioned as if they were 
distinct He cannot, it is obvious, write about everything 
at once, and even if in the end it is found that all the 
questions which I have cited are different aspects or forms 
of the same question, it is necessary to begin by treating 
them as though they were separate questions. The neces- 
sity will be apparent, if we take two ethical questions 
which seem at first sight to be closely allied the question 
of the meaning of a right action, and the question of 
the standard to which we should refer when we want to 
know whether a particular action is right. That the 
question, "what do we mean by calling an action right? " 
is different from the question, "how do we come to know 
or recognize that an action is right? 1 ', that the question of 
ning is, in other words, different from that of standard 

or criterion, can be shown by the following example: Let 
us consider the proposition "the train leaves King's 
Cross at 10 a.m. for Edinburgh," which proposition we 
will assume to be true. Then the meaning of the pro- 
position is that there is a complex, physical fact which 
the sentence used in the enunciation of the proposition 
expresses. The complex, physical feet is one that we may 
loosely describe by saying that a railway engine with 
carriages attached to it begins at a certain point of time 
to alter its position in space, although the complete descrip- 
tion of all that we mean when we enunciate this proposition 


would fill several votaries. But I am led to believe that 
the proposition is true as the result of looking up the train 
in a time-table! and I come to know that it is true by being 
at King's Gross and seeing the Edinburgh train leave the 
platform at 10 a.m. In other words, what I mean by saying 
of a thing that it is of a certain sort, by saying, for example, 
of an action that it is right, is one thing; the way ia which 
I come to know that the thing is of that sort, is another. 
Clearly, then, the answer to the question, "what do I mean 
by saying that an action is right?" is wholly different from 
the answer to the question, "how am I led to recognize 
that the action is right?" And the answer to the question, 
"how am I led to recognize that an action is right?", is 
again different from the answer to the question, "to what 
standard ought I to appeal in order to establish the fact 
of its tightness?" 

By similar methods it could, I think, be shown that all 
the groups of questions which I enunciated above are, at 
least prima facie, distinct groups. At any rate, when the 
subject matter is as complex and confusing as that of 
ethics, everything is to be gained by treating them as if 
they were distinct. Yet so to treat them is in practice ex* 
ceedingly difficult. Setting out to discuss the criterion or 
standard of tightness, the philosopher is disconcerted to 
find that he is in feet discussing the meaning of a right 
action, while enquiries into the nature of moral virtue are 
apt to transform themselves into speculations upon the nature 
of all kinds of good, aesthetic and intellectual as well as 
moral. If we are to think clearly it is essential that we should 
know precisely what it is that we are trying to think about, 
and this tendency on the part of the object of one's thought 
to turn into some allied, but slightly different, object, makes 
thinking clearly on the subject of ethics certainly no less 
difficult than thinking clearly in any other sphere. 

CUSSED. The requirement of clear thinking also demands 


that, when there is a discussion about ethics, both parties 
to the discussion should be concerned to find answers to 
the same questions. If they are not the same questions, 
the fact that they are different should be recognized. 
Members of opposed schools of ethical theory will, in other 
words, do well to make certain that they are actually, as 
they believe themselves to be, giving different answers 
to the same questions and are not in fact answering dif- 
ferent questions. I emphasize the point because ethical 
controversialists have frequently been concerned with 
different questions without being aware of the fact. To 
take an example, the controversy between utilitarians and 
intuitionists appears to be a controversy as to the answers 
which ought to be given to such questions as "what is die 
meaning of ought?", and "what is the criterion of morality?" 
In fact, however, it is not difficult to show that on a number 
of matters at issue between the two schools, the questions 
which the utilitarians were seeking to answer were different 
from those which concerned the intuitionists. Thus the 
controversy was one which could not, in the nature of 
things, be settled, since the two parties were making 
assertions and passing judgments about different things, 
were, as a logician would say, applying predicates to 
different subjects, without being aware of the fact. 

Clear thinking further demands that the words which 
the thinker uses to express his thought should be used 
always in the same sense, and further that he who seeks 
to understand the thought should know what that sense 
is. The requirement seems obvious enough, yet there is 
none in ethics with which it is more difficult to comply. 
For this difficulty there is a good reason. The reader 
will have noticed that I have frequently in the foregoing 
discussion made use of such words as "good", "right" 
and "moral obligation". These words are obviously of 
fundamental importance, and it is obvious, too, that they 
must continually recur in any discussion of ethical questions. 
Nevertheless; I have made no attempt to define them. 
Is not this, it may be asked, a culpable oversight on the 


part of the writer? It is certainly not an oversight, and 
I doubt whether it is culpable; for it is extremely difficult 
to see how it is to be avoided. 

There are two reasons why words such as those which 
I have just cited cannot be defined, at any rate at the 
beginning of an enquiry. Of these -the first will be given 
here; the second falls into place more conveniently in a 
later discussion. 1 The first reason is that the iMfrniipg 
that one assigns to such general terms as "good" and 
"right" is determined, as is one's view as to what are 
the central questions of ethics, by one's general ethical 
position. If, for example, one is a utilitarian, one holds 
that a right action is one that has the best possible conse- 
quences; if an intuitionist, that it is one of which a special 
and unique faculty, sometimes known as conscience, 
sometimes as the moral sense, approves. If one takes an 
objectivist view of ethics, one holds that the word "good" 
stands for an ultimate principle which is a real and in- 
dependent factor in the universe, recognized but not created 
by the mind of man; if a subjectivist, that "good " is merely 
the name with which human beings seek to dignify the 
things and institutions of which they happen to approve, 
and to encourage the performance of actions which are 
to their advantage. The difficulty is, then, that, while 
the meanings of the terms used in ethical discussion vary 
with the conclusions reached by the discussion, the terms 
must be used in order that the conclusions may be 
reached. Even, then, when the two parties to a controversy 
about ethics are not concerned with different subjects, 
and ate not, without being aware of the fact, giving answers 
to different questions, it is exceedingly difficult for them 
to employ words in senses which do not beg the questions 
which the words are being used to discuss. For the meaning 
which a word such as * ' right " or " good ' ' is used in ethical 
discussion to express, can only be 'its legitimate meaning, 
if the conclusions of the discussion are valid. Similarly, 
the conclusions of the discussion are only valid, if the terms 
* See bdow, pp, 166-171. 


used in reaching them have been employed in a legitimate 
sense. Thus, ethical arguments tend to be circular because 
their conclusions can only be reached if words are used 
in a certain way, while it is only if the conclusions are true 
that the words may be legitimately used in the sense 
required to reach them. 

These circles can, in the writer's opinion, only be 
broken, if we are prepared to concede that discussions 
on ethics must in the last resort pass into realms where 
results, not being reached by reason, cannot be rationally 
demonstrated. In other words, the ultimate basis of ethics 
is, in my view, intuitional and not rational The life of 
man is very various, and reason, though it is our surest 
guide, is not our only one. Man imagines as well as 
experiences; guesses as well as knows; intuits as well as 
reasons. It may well be the case that judgments of ultimate 
valuation, which seek to prescribe what is beautiful, whit 
is good and what is right, are made by a faculty that 
operates above the humdrum pedestrian levels upon which 
reason functions. This view, which is in part a personal 
one, will be developed in a later chapter. 1 

PSYCHOLOGY. A fifth difficulty is that of delimiting the 
boundaries of ethics. That ethics is, or can be, closely 
interlocked with politics we have already seen. This inter- 
locking is, I think, inevitable, and will remain so, until 
some form of political Utopia has been achieved in which 
the State can be relegated to the background of men's 
lives as an organization which, necessary for the main- 
tenance of the minimum conditions of order and security, 
which alone render possible the pursuit of the good life, 
lies outside the range of their conscious interests. Until 
that consummation is reached, politics must remain in- 
dissolubly bound up with ethics. But it is not politics alone 
which encroach upon the sphere of ethics; there is also 
psychology. The subject matter of ethics clearly includes 
1 See Chapter XII, pp. 436-438. 


human consciousness. Some writers hold that nothing is 
either good or bad excejrt states of consciousness, and that 
a world without consciousness would be a world without 
ethics* However this may be, it is clear that the moral 
judgments passed by individuals, their valuations of 
good and bad, the temptations to which they are exposed, 
and the moral conflicts through which they pass, are facts 
with which ethics is intimately concerned. All these facts 
are mental facts; they are events which take place in 
human minds. Now psychology is the science which 
takes for its province the human mind. To the psychologist 
all mental events are of interest. They constitute, indeed, 
his especial and peculiar concern and among them, there- 
fore, are included those events which also form part of 
the subject matter of ethics. How, then, is ethics to be dis- 
tinguished from psychology? 

The line of demarcation which is usually drawn is as 
follows. The purpose of psychology, it is said, is to examine 
and to classify all mental events without seeking to assess 
their value. It is enough for a psychologist that a mental 
event should occur; he is not concerned to ask whether it 
ought to occur or whether, when either of two mental 
events might have occurred, it is better that one should 
have done so than the other. Now it is precisely with the 
issues raised by the words "ought" and "better" that 
ethics is concerned. Ethics does not, in other words, merely 
register and explore states of consciousness; it assesses them, 
affirming as a result of its assessment that some are more 
desirable than others; that some ought to occur, and that 
others ought not to occur. Ethics is thus committed, as 
psychology is not, to the task of trying to give some mean- 
ing to such words as V ought" and "desirable". 

An analogy may help to elucidate the point. There are 
at least two ways in which we can give an account of a 
picture; there is the way of the scientist, and the way of 
the art critic. The scientist will analyse the matter of 
which the picture is composed, resolving its paint and 
canvas into their chemical compounds and elements, 


and, if he is a physicist, enumerating the atomic con- 
stituents of the elements. In so far as the word "good" 
can from his point of view be said to have any meaning 
at all, one picture is as "good" as another. The art critic, 
however, concerning himself with the aesthetic qualities 
of the picture, will pronounce one picture to be better 
than another in point of aesthetic merit. Thus the art 
critic measures and assigns marks for merit, whereas the 
scientist merely investigates and analyses. But what the 
ethical philosopher is judging about when he assesses 
states of consciousness from the point of view of their good- 
ness or badness, is different from the object of the psycho- 
legist's enquiry, when he analyses states of consciousness. 
The ethical philosopher approaches actions and states of 
consciousness in the way in which the art critic approaches 
pictures, while the psychologist's approach is that of the 
scientist. Ethics and aesthetics are for this reason sometimes 
called "normative", that is to say, measuring studies. 

. METAPHYSICS AND THEOLOGY. Metaphysics and theo- 
logy are two branches of study, or if, in the case of the 
latter, the term knowledge be preferred, of knowledge, 
which also encroach upon the sphere of ethics. Meta- 
physics is concerned with the nature of the universe as a 
whole. Is there, the metaphysician asks, a world of reality 
which underlies the familiar, everyday world known to 
us by means of our senses, and is the familiar, everyday 
world an aspect of this reality? If, as many metaphysicians 
have thought, this is in fact the case, then the familiar 
world will derive the features which we discern in it 
from the real world which underlies and informs it Another 
question which metaphysics discusses is that of cosmic 
purpose. Can the universe as a whole be said to have a 
purpose? If so, what part, if any, have we to play in its 
promotion? Further, in what terms is the purpose to be 
conceived? As a greater moral perfection? A higher 
degree of consciousness? Or a more intimate communion 
with God? It is clear that the answers which we give 

156 tfTHICS 

to these and similar questions will have a profound effect 
upon our ethical Views. If, for example, we hold that 
there is a reality underlying the familiar world, that the 
familiar world expresses this reality and that this reality 
is in some important sense good, then it will follow that 
the features which even the familiar world exhibits must 
be ethically admirable) and that evil is in some sense 
illusory. It will also follow that men should try to penetrate 
beneath the surface world of appearance to the reality which 
underlies it; it will be their duty, in other words, to try 
to know what the Greeks called the Good. From this 
duty all others will be derivable. If, again, we hold that the 
universe is not only changing but evolving, and that its 
evolution is inspired by a principle which is also a purpose, 
or which is imbued by a purpose, it will follow that our 
conduct should be such as to promote that purpose. 

Theology gives point and precision to the duties which 
metaphysics leaves vague. If we may assume that there 
is a God, that He is the creator of the familiar, everyday 
world, that He is all-good and all-powerful, and that He 
has bestowed upon us the gift of freewill, then an obligation 
to use that gift in a particular way will clearly arise. For 
it will be our duty, given the theological assumption, 
to act in such a way as to please God, and it will be our 
duty also to try to know Him and to try to love Him. 
From these primary duties certain derivative duties 
touching our conduct towards our neighbours will follow. 

It is not too much to say that, granted assumptions of 
this kind, the whole conduct of a man's life is, or at any 
rate should be, determined by the corollaries that follow 
from them. What, in the last resort, we ought to do and 
the reason why we ought to do it can on this assumption 
only be determined by reference to another plane of 
existence and the Divine Being who dwells upon it. As the 
philosophers put it, ethics derives both its content (what 
we ought to do) and its authority (why we ought to do it) 
from theology. Many ethical writers have, indeed, inain- 
tained that in the absence of theological assumptions 


enlightened selfishness would be the only intelligible 
rule of conduct, and that the conception of ethics as a 
normative study concerned to. assess the lightness and 
wrongness of actions and to show why we should do our 
duty would be inadmissible. 

It will be seen from the foregoing that the overlap between 
ethics and other branches of enquiry, notably psychology, 
metaphysics and theology, is extensive. As a result, it is 
difficult to obtain agreement as to where the boundaries 
of ethics should be drawn. The fact that the sphere of 
ethics is without either an agreed centre or an agreed 
circumference does not conduce to ease of exposition. All 
that I can hope to do is to give some account of the main 
problems which ethical writers have in fact discussed, and 
to indicate some of the conclusions which they have reached 
in regard to them. 

Framework of Ensuing Exposition. The problems of 
ethics are so numerous, the methods of treatment so 
various, and the overlap between the various problems 
of ethics and between these problems and cognate problems 
which lie outside the sphere of ethics proper so extensive, 
that the question of arrangement presents more than usual 
difficulty. The form of arrangement which I have decided 
to adopt is as follows. I propose to divide ethical theories 
into four main categories. 

two categories I have 'assigned what are called intuitionist 
and utilitarian theories. These two groups of theories differ 
primarily in regard to the answer they give to the question, 
what is the meaning of the word "right", when it is applied 
to actions, characters and institutions. A right action may 
be defined as one which possesses certain intrinsic char- 
acteristics, in, virtue of which it evokes or should evoke 
in a person contemplating the action a certain psycho- 
logical condition, a condition which we may describe as 
that of moral approval. When I speak of the intrinsic 


characteristics of actions, I mean those which they possess 
in their own right independently of their relations to any 
other thing or action, or to all other things or actions. 
An intrinsic characteristic is, in short, that which the 
action possesses in virtue of the fact that it is itself, 
lacking which it would not be itself. I do not wish to suggest 
by this definition that actions do have intrinsic charac- 
teristics. My purpose is only to indicate what would be 
meant by the expression "intrinsic characteristics'* if, 
indeed, there were such things. Just as the characteristic 
of being right may be intrinsic, so also may that of being 
wrong. Thu^ the act of telling a lie may be regarded as 
one which possesses the intrinsic characteristic of being 
wrong; since it is wrong it ought, the writer who main- 
tains that actions possess intrinsic characteristics would 
say, to evoke in a properly constituted mind a -reaction 
of moral disapproval. We do not, he might add, need to 
ask ourselves why lying is wrong; we know immediately 
and intuitively that it is so, just as we know immediately 
and intuitively that a particular smell is bad. Thus the 
definition of a right action as one which possesses certain 
intrinsic characteristics, and the definition of it as one 
which provokes a certain reaction in a properly con* 
stituted mind, namely, a feeling of approval by the moral 
sense, tend to result in the same kind of ethical theory, 
a theory to which we shall give the name of intuitionist. 
Utilitarianism defines the tightness of actions by refer- 
ence to the consequences which they produce. The criterion 
of a right action is for a utilitarian to be found not in any 
intrinsic characteristic of tht action, nor in any sentiment 
of moral approval evoked by it in any person or body of 
persons, but in certain facts, namely, those facts which are 
the actual results which follow from the action; if the 
results are the best possible in the circumstances, the 
action is right. The utilitarian is thus committed to a dis- 
cussion of the meaning of the words "good" and "best". 
The chief difference between these two groups of theories 
is that while Intuitionism conceives "right" as an ultimate 


notion, Utilitarianism defines "right" with reference to 
something else, namely, its ability to promote "good". 
This, then, is our first distinction, the distinction between 
Intuitionism and Utilitarianism. 

(a) SuBjEcnvOT AND OsjECTivisT THEORIES. There is a 
second distinction which cuts across the first, a distinction 
between objcctivist and subjectivist ethical theories. The 
words "objective" and "subjective", which constantly 
occur in philosophical discussion, are used ia so many 
and in such ambiguous senses that it is worth while to 
pause for a moment in order to try to make clear the 
senses in which they may be used with some degree of 
precision. A subjective judgment we will define as a judg- 
ment to the effect that the experience of the person making 
the judgment is being modified in a certain way in other 
words, that something is happening in or to "the subject". 
An objective judgment we will define as a judgment to 
the effect that the world external to the person judging 
is characterized by a certain quality. Whether there can 
be objective judgments in the sense defined may be a 
matter of controversy. But, if there are such judgments, 
we shall understand them to assert that the world is being, 
has been, or will be characterized by such and such a 

Examples of Subjective Judgments. Now most people 
would be inclined to say that prima facie some judgments 
are subjective, some objective. If X judges "these goose- 
berries are sour", while Y judges "these gooseberries are 
sweet", most people would say that what X and Y are 
in fact judging about is not some quality which is char- 
acterizing or is possessed by the gooseberries, but. the 
effects produced by the gooseberries on their respective 
palates. The palates being different, the effects produced 
are different, and, as a consequence, the qualities of the 
experiences of X and Y are different. Hence the judgment 
"these gooseberries are sour" does not contradict the 


judgment ''these gooseberries are sweet", since each of 
the two judgments is about something different The two 
judgments are, therefore, according to the definition given 
above, subjective judgments. Again, most people would 
say, although not perhaps with the same degree of con- 
viction, that the two judgments "the colour of the sea is 
now blue" and "the colour of the sea is now green" are 
subjective, since what they refer to is not some quality, 
namely, blueness or greenness, which is characterizing the 
sea, but the effects produced by the sea (or, to be scientifi- 
cally precise, by the light waves proceeding from the place 
where the sea is) upon the respective retinas of the two 
persons making the judgments. These effects are complex 
effects, to which the conditions of light, the respective 
positions of observation, and the different characteristics 
of the retinas and general visual apparatus of the persons 
in question all contribute. For example, one of die two 
persons might be colour-blind, so that the colour of the 
sea would appear differently to him and to a person of 
of normal vision. Because these complex physical and 
physiological conditions are different, so too, it might be 
said, are the experiences of the persons judging. 

I say that the degree of conviction in this case would 
probably be less than in the case of experiences originating 
in the palate, for the reason that there is a general pre- 
supposition to the effect that the colour of things really 
belongs to diem in some sense in which their tastes, for 
example, whether they are sweet or whether they are 
sour, do not. Many of those who have some acquaintance 
with idealist arguments 1 would, however, be inclined to 
deny that things redly possess colour, and would, there- 
fore, class the judgments "the sea is now blue" and "the 
sea is now green" as subjective in feet, if not in form. 
They would, that is to say, maintain that the only state- 
ments involving colour that we are nalfr entitled to make 
are such statements as, "the sea looks blue to mt", or "the 

*Sec my GtMt * PtuloMpb, Chapters I sad II, to so account of 


sea gives me an experience of blunuss", and "the tea looks 
green to me" or "the sea gives me an experience of greenness", 
statements which are subjective in form as well as in fact 

Examples of Objective Judgments. At the other end 
of the scale we may, as examples of prima facie objective 
judgments, instance mathematical judgments. When some* 
body judges that 3 + 35, or that 7 x 7 a 49, he is pur- 
porting to make an assertion about the relations that hold 
between numbers. He would not ordinarily be taken to 
mean, "I am so constituted that I happen to think that 
3+2=5, but somebody differently constituted is perfectly 
entitled to assert that 3+2=6". He means, and would 
be normally understood to mean, that anybody who 
thinks that 3+26 is simply wrong, and that this is what 
he means any schoolboy who took advantage of the 
undeniable subjectivity of many judgments to assert his. 
inalienable right to maintain that 3+2 does equal 6, would 
very quickly Kscover to his cost. 

Another example of a prima facie objective judgment 
would be a judgment about the temperature of a room. 
If I say "the temperature of this room is 75 Fahrenheit", 
most people would hold that my judgment admits of being 
either right or wrong in a sense in which the judgment 
"this room seems to me to be unduly hot", or alternatively 
"unduly cold", does not admit of being either right or 
wrong. The first judgment, in other words, purports to 
say something about the conditions prevailing in the 
room, the second about my personal reactions to these 
conditions. It may, of course, be the case it almost always 
is the case that psychological or physiological conditions 
prevailing in me determine what judgment I shall pass 
about the temperature of the room. If, for example, I 
have recently emerged from a hothouse, I shall probably 
judge it to be lower than I should, if I entered it from a 
refrigerator. But, although subjective conditions may 
determine thfe precise judgment that I actually do pass, 
they do not prevent the judgment from being at least in 

tfet ETHICS 

intention an objective one, of bring, that is to say, a 
judgment which purports to assert something about certain 
conditions which are existing in the world independently 
both of me and of tho judgment, and most people would 
jay that, since the temperature of .the room can be 
measured by a thermometer, there is a perfectly precise 
sense in which a judgment to the effect that it is so and so 
would be objective and right, while another judgment to 
the effect that it is something else would be objective 
and wrong* Moreover, one judgment would also be said 
to be more nearly right than another, if it was nearer to 
the thermometer reading. 

In some cases a prima fad* objective judgment would 
appear to shade into a prima foci* subjective judgment and 
vie* versa. If I am standing on a railway bridge and looking 
down at the railway lines immediately below me, I shall 
judge "these rails are parallel". If I look as far as I can 
along the track, I shall notice that the lines apptar to 
converge. Now this apparent convergence I believe to 
be what I call an optical illusion. Hence, while I should 
describe the judgment "these railway lines are parallel" 
as an objective judgment, I should regard the judgment 
"these railway lines converge at a certain distance along 
the track' 9 as subjective. Yet the lines to which the two 
judgments purport to refer are the same lines, and there 
must, presumably, be a point somewhere along the track 
at which the objective judgment ceases to be made and is 
superseded by the subjective judgment. 

Subjectivity and Objectivity in Ethics. Now the 
jort of question which ethics discusses raises at once this 
issue between subjectivity and objectivity. Let us suppose 
that I make some such assertion as "this action is right", 
"that man's character is good", "to save the child at the 
risk of his own life was clearly his duty", then, the question 
immediately arises, do such judgments refer to and make 
statements about some intrinsic quality possessed by the 
action or character or duty under judgment, or do they 


merely report the subjective opinions of myself, the 
judge. On the first assumption, actions, characters and 
duties will possess a quality which we will provisionally 
call their tightness, just as truly as a chessboard possesses 
the quality of squareness* On die second assumption, 
there will be no difference in point of meaning between 
the judgments "this is a right action' 1 and "this is an 
action of which I happen to approve", since though the 
first is objective in form, both are subjective in fact The 
two judgments are, in fact, on the subjectivist view, merely 
saying the same thing in different ways. On this view, then, 
the opinion on moral issues of the criminal or the madman 
is entitled to as much respect as that of the saint whose 
goodness the world universally recognizes. For neither the 
criminal nor the- saint has really succeeded in telling us 
anything about die moral quality of the action or character - 
or duty which he purports to be judging; each has only 
reported his own personal experience. 

Subjective schools of thought are very common in 
ethics. In ancient Athens there were already sceptics who 
denied that there were any standards which prescribed . 
what was good or right for everybody, and insisted that 
the terms "good" and "right" had no meaning in 
themselves. There were only, they maintained, the 
opinions of individual men and women as to what they 
in fact judged it best to value and to pursue. It is a matter 
of common observation to-day that most people accept 
the subjective view, at any rate so long as it conduces to 
their advantage, although if it is turned against them by 
others, they are apt to fall back upon the assumption of 
absolute standards and to declare their opponents to be 
wrong or immoral by these standards. 

Naturalistic Theories. A view which is ethically 
subjectivist in type is one which has been popularized by 
anthropology. According to this view, it is not the opinion 
of any particular individual, for example, the agent who 
performs the action, which determines fa lightness or 


wrongness, but that of the society to which he belongs; 
or, it may be of the primitive society from which the 
society to which he belongs has developed. Thing? which 
were found to be expedient by our ancestors were called 
good by them because they were expedient Thus a tradition 
arose that certain things were good merely because over 
a considerable period people had agreed to call them so. 
This tradition became in course of time so ingrained in 
the consciousness of the race that presently it began to 
appear as an inherited instinct This inherited instinct 
we call conscience. Thus* when conscience functions 
telling us that action X is pght or action Y wrong, 
character X good or character Y bad, what it really 
means is that X-like actions and characters were found to 
be to the advantage, Y-like actions and characters to the 
disadvantage f of the societies from which our own has 
developed. On this view, then, X and Y do not possess 
any objective ethical characteristics of their own. Hence, 
in judging them to be right and wrong, we are judging 
only that certain persons or classes of persons entertain 
or once entertained certain feelings of approval and 
disapproval in regard to them. 1 

A Fourfold Division. Let us now apply this dis- 
tinction between subjective and objective theories to our 
first grouping of ethical theories into intuitionist and utili- 
tarian. The subjective-objective distinction is clearly 
applicable to theories belonging to both groups. Intui- 
tionist theories which affirm that actions are right and 
things are good apart from their consequences may mean 
that they are right and good in themselves, independently 
of what any person or body of persons thinks, or has 
once thought .about them, or that they are right and 
good only because people think or have thought them 
to be o. In the first case, actions will be approved because 
they are seen to be moral; in the second, to say of them 
that they are moral will mean merely that they are 
1 See Chapter X, pp. 373-376 for * development <sf thii view/ 


approved. Theories of the first type may be called objective* 
intuitioniflt theories; of the second, subjective-intuitionitt 
theories. Similarly with utilitarian theories. A right action, 
says the utilitarian, is one which has the best consequences; 
but "best" may be interpreted objectively, to mean that 
what is "best" is what it is independently of any opinion 
that any person or body of persons may entertain in regard 
to it, or "best" may be interpreted subjectively to mean 
that what is " best " is " best ' ' only because and in so far as 
people desire or approve of it. To say of consequences that 
they are the "best" will mcarf, on this latter view, merely 
that they have obtained more approval or gratified more 
desires in all or most of a particular class of people than 
the consequences which would have followed any alter- 
native action that was open to the agent* 

In the succeeding Chapters, I shall briefly outline some 
of the representative theories in each of these four groups, 
namely, objective-intuitionist, objective-utilitarian, sub- 
jective utilitarian and subjective-intuitionist in the order 

A Preliminary Doubt. Before, however, I can embark 
on the task of exposition, there is a preliminary doubt 
to be disposed of, or rather, since it cannot be disposed of 
at any rate in this book, to be acknowledged. There is a 
point of view which insists that writing and discussion 
about ethics is usually, if not always meaningless, and can- 
not, therefore, be fruitful. If this point of view could be 
successfully maintained, a great part of what follows would 
not need to be written. * 

This point of view is in essence as follows. Our views 
about ethical matters may be valid, but they are strictly 
incommunicable, for, although we may know what is 
right and good, we cannot define or give an account of our 
knowledge. The subject matter of ethics in fact is not to 
be talked or written about; it is rather in die nature of an 
experience, unique and incommunicable, to be enjoyed* 


Ethical Nihilism. It is important to distinguish this 
view firom the purely sceptical attitude to ethics which 
underlies the group of theories that I have termed sub- 
jective intuitionist. This attitude is one which in the last 
resort denies validity to ethical notions, and may thus 
be called ethical Nihilism. There is nothing good or evil 
in the world, it urges, but thinking makes it so, while the 
words right and wrong are merely the names with which 
men choose to dignify the things they happen to like or 
dislike. It follows that those conceptions with which ethics 
deals, the conceptions of right and duty and moral 
obligation and good, have no basis in the nature of things, 
nor do they own any counterpart in the universe outside 
men's minds. They are merely concepts which men have 
generated and projected for their comfort and assurance 
upon the canvas of an ethically meaningless universe. 
For the universe itself the ethical nihilist might continue, 
is ethically neutral: it contains no principles to guide our 
conduct, no Being to watch over our endeavours, no goals 
to reward our efforts. It is merely the hurrying of material 
endlessly, meaninglessly. This nihilistic attitude which 
underlies the theories to be considered in Chapter X has 
the effect, as I have already hinted, of robbing ethics of 
all validity and meaning; for, if the terms right and wrong 
have no meaning in themselves, it is meaningless to say 
that we ought to do the one and refrain from the other; 
if good and evil are not factors in the universe which 
exist independently of us, it is meaningless to say that we 
ought to pursue the one and avoid the other. 

Ethical Silence. But the view which I now wish to 
consider is not ethical Nihilism. This view, which I propose 
to label "ethical Silence", admits that ethical expressions 
have a meaning. It agrees, too, that it is not impossible 
that we may come to know what that meaning is; but we 
cannot, it asserts, communicate it. The reason for this 
conclusion, a conclusion which is sometimes known as 
ethical Positivism, may be stated briefly as follows. All 


ethical judgments are judgments of value. They arc, in 
other words, judgments to the effect that so and so is 
desirable, or that so and so ought to be done; desirable, 
that is to say, for its own sake, obligatory just because there 
is moral obligation. To say that a thing is desirable for 
its own sake, or to say that it is obligatory just because 
there is moral obligation, is to imply that no reason can 
be given for regarding it as desirable or as obligatory. 
Words commonly used to express the property of incom- 
municability which belongs to a truth of which we 
are convinced but our conviction of which we cannot 
communicate, which is a property of a fact that we 
know but our knowledge of which we cannot demon* 
strate, are "absolute", "ultimate" and "unique". Now 
judgments to the effect that something is absolute, 
ultimate and unique are, it is said, entailed every time we 
make a statement involving an ethical term, and they 
are entailed because the statement implies in the last 
resort the existence of this something. Let us suppose 
that we make a statement containing an ethical term,, 
the statement that so and so is good. Now the word 
"good" is usually employed in an instrumental sense; a 
thing called "good" is, that is to say, usually so called 
because it is " good " for something. Thus poison gas is 
" good " for keeping enemy infants permanently quiet ; jem- 
mies are "good" for burglarious enterprises; bad men in 
hell are "good " for keeping good men out of hell ; Guinness 
is "good" for you, and so on. Let us consider what is 
entailed by any one such statement, quinine, we will 
sa Y> is " good ". Good for what? Good for fever. Quinine 
helps, in other words, to reduce fever; but why reduce 
fever? Because fever is a disease. But why not be diseased? 
Because health is better than disease. Why is health better 
than disease? At this point we may refuse to answer; 
we just see, we may say, that health is better than disease, 
and that is all there is to say about it. But in saying "we 
just see" health to be better than disease, we are absolving 
ourselves from the necessity of saying why we see it to be so. 


We are denying, in other words, that we can give reasons 
for what "we just tec". Or, we may try to give reasons; 
health, we may say, is better than disease because health 
makes for happiness, and disease for pain and misery. 
But why prefer happiness to pain and misery? With this 
question we have reached the same point as before. We 
can either say that "we just see" happiness to be pre- 
ferableand most people would be prepared to make 
this judgment- or we may take the argument a step further 
and try to give reasons for preferring happiness. But if 
we do this, we shall, sooner or later, reach the same point 
at which we have already twice tried to stop, the point 
at which we cease to give reasons and fall back upon the 
assertion "we just see". Now it is at this point that we are 
passing a judgment of absolute, ultimate, and unique 
value; it is unique in the sense that no reasons can be 
given in defence of it; it is ultimate in the sense that no 
end of value is affirmed beyond what it is judged to be 
valuable, and it is absolute in the sense that it cannot be 
resolved into, or derived from any other judgment 

Nature of Absolute Judgments. An analogy may here be 
of service. Let us suppose that I make the judgment, this 
curtain is red. This judgment, too, is absolute, ultimate 
and unique in the sense in which I have just claimed that 
moral judgments are absolute, ultimate and unique; for 
if I am asked why I judge the curtain to be red, or what 
reason I have for judging it to be red, I can again give no 
answer. I can only say that I just see it to be so. No doubt 
it is true that I have been taught to give the name of red 
to colours of the particular kind which I am now seeing 
or, more correctly, to colours which give me the particular 
visual sensations which I am now experiencing but for 
my implied judgment that this kind of colour which I 
am now seeing or which gives me the visual sensations 
which I am now experiencing belongs to the class which 
I have been taught to call red, I can give no reasons at 
all. And since the reasons which we are accustomed to 


give in support of any judgment usually take die form of 
saying how or why we came to make it (for example, if 
I make a judgment, that there will be a European 
war sometime during the next twenty years, and some- 
body asks me to defend the judgment, I shall adduce 
reasons for my judgment derived from a study of recent 
history, or an analysis of the contemporary international 
Situation) there is very little that I can say about my 
judgment, this curtain is red. I cannot say why I think 
the curtain red, how I came to make the judgment, or 
what are my reasons for thinking it to be true. 

We are, it is said, in a similar case in regard to the ultimate 
judgments of value which underlie any statement of an 
ethical character. Are such statements, then, and are the 
judgments which underlie them lintrue? It does not follow 
that they are; for in the case of many things, which 
we know to be true, we can give no reasons for our know- 
ledge. As I have just pointed out, we can know that the 
proposition "this curtain is red " is true, without being able 
to give reasons for it, and in just the same way it may 
be the case that when we know that the proposition* 'cruelty 
is evil" is true, we cannot give reasons for our knowledge. 
But because the reasons for such judgments are non- 
existent, or, if they exist, incommunicable, it does not 
follow that the judgments are meaningless, or that 
their meaning is not understood. Whether it is under- 
stood or not, depends upon whether the person to whom 
the judgment is addressed has at any time shared the 
experience which induced the person judging to make it. 

Let me cite another analogy: we will suppose that I 
have the toothache, but that you have never had it What 
will be the effect upon you of my communication, "I 
have the toothache"? You will no doubt understand with 
your reason that I am suffering some kind of pain, although, 
if you had never experienced pain of any kind, even the 
thought, "he is suffering pain", would for you be largely 
devoid of meaning. But if, although you had had some 
pain you had never had the toothache, then die meaning 



of my statement, "I have the toothache", would be largely 
unintelligibly for there would be no bell, so to speak, in 
your consciousness upon which my words would strike 
and awaken answering echoes of sympathetic experience. 
For our statements to one another are only intelligible to 
the extent that they are based upon a fund of experience 
common to the person making the statement and to the 
person to whom die statement is made, and in this case 
which I am now imagining, the case in which the pain of 
the toothache which I am experiencing refers to something 
which is outside the range of your experience, the statement 
"I have the toothache" would be unintelligible to you. It 
would be unintelligible, not because you failed to understand 
the meaning of the words I was using, but because you had 
never had an experience and consequently, therefore, had 
no memory of an experience, which would enable you to 
realize imaginatively what kind of sensations I was having. 

That There Cannot be a Science of Ethics. Now 
moral judgments would, it is said by the ethical positivists, 
be similarly meaningless, were it not that the person to 
whom they are addressed had himself participated in 
moral experience. In fact, however, all human beings, 
just because they are human, do possess a moral sense 
and do, therefore, have moral experience. They are all, 
to take a particular case, sensible of the difference between 
the statements "I ought to do this" .and "I would like 
to do this 9 ', or "it would be expedient for me to do this". 
If they were not sensible of this difference, they would not 
be fully human, just as a man lacking a rational intelli- 
gence would not he fully human. 

Therefore, it is argued, moral judgments do mean some* 
thing to us, because they are based upon experiences which 
are common to all mankind. These experiences are, how- - 
ever, unique; there is, that is to say, no feeling which is 
in any way comparable to our feeling of "oughtness", 
just as there is no feeling which is in any way comparable 
to our feeling of toothache. And, because they are unique, 


we cannot say anything about them, for to say something 
about them would be to describe them in terms of some- 
thing else, and to the extent that they are unique such 
a description would be a falsification* Not only are moral 
judgments unique; they are, the ethical positivist would 
assert, indefensible. We cannot, that is to say, in the last 
resort give reasons why we ought to do what we ought 
to do; we just see that we ought to do it. Moral judgments 
cannot, therefore, be validly deduced from some premise 
which is more ultimate than the judgment, since they are 
themselves ultimate, and, therefore, indefensible. Nor can 
we specify any end for the sake of which an action which 
we seek to justify by the bestowal of moral approval ought 
to be done. For, if the judgment of moral approval is an 
ultimate judgment, to say that an act ought to be done, 
is to say that the act is its own sufficient justification. 
Therefore, although we both know the meaning of ethical 
judgments and can communicate this meaning to those 
who have had some ethical experience, there cannot, it is 
said, be a science of ethics. We cannot, in other words, 
answer such questions as, "What is the origin of moral judg- 
ments? How is their authenticity to be recognized? In 
what is their justification to be found?" We can, of course, 
say what a moral judgment is not, distinguishing it from 
judgments of expediency, or judgments which are rationali- 
zations of individual likings and dislikings, but what it 
actually is in itself, we can say no more than we can 
say what colour is. Now the purpose of ethics as tradition- 
ally pursued has often, as I pointed out at the beginning of 
the chapter, been conceived to consist in giving an account 
of moral judgments. What, ethical philosophers have asked, 
is their origin? What is their justification? By reference to 
what standard is their correctness or otherwise to be assessed? 
If the ethical positivists are right, these are questions which 
camK^ be answei^. The condufflonis that although morality 
jneally is morality, and although we know what it is, a science 
or philosophy of morality is something which should not be 
ought, for the reason that it can never be found. 


Professor Pritehard's Views. Views of this kind were 
first put forward in modern times by Mr. H. A. 
Pritchard in a paper, which appeared in 1905, entitled 
Is Moral Philosophy Based on a Mistake ? Taking it for granted 
that some form of Intuitionism 1 is correct, and pointing 
out that all ethical assertions involve some judgment of 
value, Pritchard proceeds to argue on behalf of conclusions 
not dtMimily* from those which I have just indicated. It 
should be added that Pritchard's conclusions form an 
integral part of a general position, a position in regard to 
the nature of knowledge. His ethical views may, however, 
fairly be considered on their own merits. If they are right, 
most of what has been said on the subject of ethics, though 
it may possess considerable psychological interest as 
indicating what particular people have held to be desirable 
or obligatory, contributes little or nothing to the questions 
with which ethics has purported officially to deal. When 
philosophers speculate at large about the nature of the 
Good, or the basis of moral obligation, the results of 
their speculations tell us, if Pritchard's view is right, a 
good deal about the philosophers but very little about the 
Good or about moral obligation. 

The Author's Position. For my part, I am inclined 
to believe that this position is, if not true, at least reason- 
ably near the truth. I hold, that is to say, that the judgments 
upon which ethics is based are immediate, in the sense that 
they are not based upon other judgments, and ultimate 
in the sense that they are not inferred or deduced from 
premises which are more fundamental than themselves. 
I do got, therefore, wish to imply, as the exponents of the 
view which I have denominated ethical Silence seem to 
suggest, that there is nothing we can meaningfully say 
about ethics, or that, as they put it, there cannot be a 
science of ethics. Ethics, admittedly, does not, like logic, 
consist of propositions which can be vafidly deduced 
from self-evident premises. We cannot, tttat is to say, 
1 See above, pp. 157, 138 and Chapter VI fcr mn account of thii view. 


regard a particular situation in which we have to act as 
a premise, and then proceed to deduce from it the con- 
clusion, "this is what I ought to do", in the way in which 
we can deduce a conclusion in logic from premises which 
we take to be true. Nor, like science, does ethics consist of a 
body of general laws which are inferred from the behaviour 
of particular instances. We cannot, that is to say, regard 
a course of conduct which is right on a particular occasion, 
as a ground for inferring some general law to the effect 
that such a course of conduct is always right. There is, 
nevertheless, scope for reasoning in ethics. We can, for 
example, use reasoning to discover whether the intuitions 
which we are prepared to accept as valid are consistent. 
We can also use reasoning to discover what particular 
judgments can be truly asserted on the basis of these intui- 
tions. This does not, it must be admitted, constitute a very 
ambitious programme for the ethical philosopher. Its 
modesty has, however, the advantage of rendering it easy 
for the present writer to resist the temptation to include 
in the chapters that follow an extended personal contri- 
bution. Confining myself so far as possible to the exposition 
of the views of others, I shall not, except in one chapter, 
attempt to intrude my own. In Chapter XI I seek to assess, 
from a standpoint not very different from the one just 
indicated, some of the results which have been readied 
by die ethical philosophers whose work has been surveyed. 
On the basis of this assessment, I have ventured in 
Chapter XII to present a positive view of some of the 
questions discussed. I shall here permit myself one obser- 
vation only on the question raised at the beginning of 
the chapter, the question of the proper subject matter of 

The Proper Subject Matter of Ethics. I mentioned 
at the outset that a number of different problems have 
been propounded by different philosophers, for each of 
which it has been claimed by some philosopher or other 
that it constituted the central problem of ethics. Having 


enumerated them, I pointed out that one's view as to 
which of them was, in fact, central depended upon one's 
general ethical position. For my part, I doubt whether 
any of these questions should in fact be given a central 
position, partly because I doubt whether any of them are 
in fact answerable. I should, therefore, be inclined to assign 
to ethics as its main business the task not of obtaining new 
knowledge, but of clarifying knowledge that we already 
possess. If I am right, we all of us have certain moral 
intuitions, intuitions in' regard to good and evil, right 
and wrong. It is not the study of ethics that provides 
us with these intuitions; it is not, that is to say, ethical 
speculation or reasoning, that tells us what is good, 
or informs us as to the difference between right and 
wrong; it is our own moral faculty. In so far as we lacked 
such a faculty, in so far as it failed to provide us with 
moral intuitions, we should be lacking in respect of our 
full humanity. 

But though we all have ethical intuitions, they are, in 
most of us, vague and uncoordinated. In savages they 
assume curious forms; even among civilized persons they 
are often inconsistent, so that, if what X holds to be 
right in one connection really is right; it is impossible 
that what he holds to be right in another connection 
should also be really right There is scope, then, for a 
study which will clarify and co-ordinate the knowledge 
which, if I am right, we already possess, so that we may 
come to realize more clearly than we do now what are 
the nature and content of our moral consciousness. This 
task I conceive to be the main purpose of ethics. 


Chapters relating to the scope and subject nutter of Ethics 
will be found in any treatise on the subject. Good general books 

Sroowrac, HENRY. Outlines of the History of Ethics. 
MUOKHBAD, J. H. Elements of Ethics. 
MACKENZIE, J. S. A Manual of Ethics. 
FOLD, G. a Moral Theory. 




I The Moral Sense School 

Place of Conscience in Ethics. We shall be con- 
cerned in this chapter with that group of ethical 
theories which I have called objcctivc-intuitionist. The 
distinctive contentions of Objective-Intuitionism are that 
certain things are good, others bad, whether we personally 
like them or not; certain things right, others wrong, 
whether we think them to be so or not. Most objective 
intuitionists would maintain that we are endowed with a 
special faculty, conscience, or, as it is sometimes called, 
the moral sense, which, if we have been reasonably well 
trained and have reasonably good characters, tells us what 
things are good, what bad, what right and what wrong. 
I have deliberately stated the doctrine in its popular form 
because it is of all ethical doctrines the one which wins 
the widest popular acceptance. It is probable, indeed, 
that it represents the view which the plain man is in- 
stinctively inclined to adopt in regard to' ethical questions, 
more often than any other ethical theory. The people 
who tell you that right is right and wrong wrong, and that 
all the arguing and cleverness in the world will not make 
them any different are objectivc-intuitionists. Christianity, 
too, lends its support to this view. Postulating the exist- 
ence of a faculty called conscience, sometimes identified 
with the voice of God, Christianity holds that it is by means 
of this faculty that the absolute and unanalysable judgments 
of right find 'wrong, ill whose validity Objective Intui- 
tionism believes, are made. Conscience, it is agreed, may 

176 * ETHICS 

be trained and educated, and the developed moral judg- 
ment of the civilized man is, it would be conceded, more 
trustworthy in its deliverances than the primitive moral 
insight of the savage. But however civilized the person, 
however developed his conscience, its deliverances will, it 
is said, still take the form of immediate, absolute, and 
unique judgments of right and wrong, the adjectives 
immediate, absolute and uilique being used in the special 
senses described in the last chapter. 1 

Popular Support for Objective Intuitionism. Con- 
science functions in the popular view, which is also the 
Christian view, rather life a sixth sense, a sense which is 
set over the realm of morals, as the sense of hearing is 
set over the realm of sound, and the sense of smell over 
that of odours; and just as, to revert to an illustration 
already used, a man's nose tells him which smells are 
pleasant and which unpleasant, so his conscience, or moral 
sense, tells him which actions are right, which wrong. 
And just as against the deliverances of the nose there is 
no appeal, just as for them there is no rational justification 
for we cannot say why a smell that we pronounce to 
be bad, is bad so there is neither appeal against, nor, 
in the last resort, rational justification for, the deliverances 
of conscience 

Those who take this view are accustomed to point to 
die fact that children and uneducated persons frequently 
and unhesitatingly pass moral judgments. Now it is, they 
say, absurd to suppose that the peasant woman who 
reproves the licence of the town, and the maid who 
condemns the promiscuity of her mistress, do so because 
they have reflected upon the probable social effects of 
sexual laxity, should it become widespread; that they 
have judged these effects to be undesirable and, having 
done so, proceed to censure such individual cases of laxity 
as come under their notice as being liable to set an example 
which, if widely followed, would tend to produce the effects 
* See Chapter V, pp. 167, 168. 


in question. No such elaborate chain of reasoning is, it is 
argued, involved; all that has happened is that die moral 
sense of the peasant and the maid have instinctively and 
immediately reacted with judgments of disapprobation 
to behaviour which an act of insight has revealed as wrong. 
Similarly! the child who reproves the action of another 
child in pulling the wings off flics, has not necessarily at 
his disposal a stock of maxims of the "kindness is better 
than cruelty" type, with which to back his reproof; he 
intuitively feels that it is wrong to make living things 
needlessly suffer. Some I am in this argument still 
following popular' usage push this fine of thought even 
further, and claim for the uninStructed moral senses of 
country people, or of the very young, a degree of immediate 
insight which has, they say, been lost by those who have 
become bemused by the sophistications of the intellect, 
or obscured in those who have succumbed to the artifi- 
cialities of civilized life. The moral sense, it is often said, 
comes to us from a supernatural source; it is only to be 
expected, therefore, that it should function with the greatest 
freedom and directness in the young, and in those who 
have not allowed themselves to be corrupted by the 
sophistries of this world. These latter reflections belong, 
it is true, rather to the realm of moralizing than to that 
of popular morals; nor, intuitionists would admit, can the 
same degree of authority be claimed for them as for the 
popular tradition which testifies to the authority of con- 
science. This tradition which affirms that there is a moral 
sense, that it is unique, that its deliverances are absolute, and 
that they are our sole guide to morality, prescribing to us 
what things are right and what wrong, does, it is urged, 
represent centuries of popular thinking about morals; it 
constitutes, in fact, a distillation of the common moral 
experience of mankind. It is not, in any event, to be 
lightly dismissed, and the doctrine which treats the 
existence and Authority of the moral sense as the key- 
stone of the structure of ethics the doctrine, namely, 
of Objective-Intuitionism has, in spite of the various 


difficulties to which it is exposed, great claims upon our 
consideration. I will now try to give some account of this 

The ^tiglith Intuitionists, In the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries a number of English writers advanced 
ethical theories which) assuming the validity of the moral 
consciousness, sought to do justice to its deliverances. 
Bishop Butler (1692-1752), Shaftesbury (1671-1713)9 
Cumberland (1632-1719), Cudworth (1617-1688), Clarke, 
(1675-1729)9 Wollaston (1659-1724), Hutcheson (1694- 
1747), all embraced, in one form or another, Objective- 
Intuitionism. Of these writers, Bishop Butler is consider* 
ably the most important. I propose, therefore, after a 
brief preliminary treatment of some of the writers just 
mentioned, to give some account of Butler's philosophy, 
and to follow this with an outline of the moral theory of Kant 
which, in spite of its difficulty, is perhaps the most cele- 
brated theory in the history of moral philosophy. The 
English objective-intuitionists mentioned above differ 
from one another chiefly in their views of the nature of 
the facility by means of which moral differences are 
recognized and moral judgments passed. The general 
importance of this question and in particular its bearing 
upon the problem of free-will, I shall try to show in 
later chapters. 1 For the moment I am concerned only 
with that form of Objective-Intuitionism which postulating 
a unique faculty, not specifically identified with reason, 
will, emotion or any other faculty, and usually known as 
"the moral sense", regards it as the sole and undisputed 
source of our moral judgments. 

Writers of die Moral Sense School The term "moral 
sense" was actually first used by the ethical writer 
Hutcheson (1694-1747) in his SysUm of Moral Philosophy. 
How, he asked, do we come to have our notions of morality, 
and answered, in effect, very much as we come to have 

1 See Chapter VII, pp. 267-271; and Chapter VIII, pp. 287-289 


our notions of colour. We form the general idea of red, 
he maintained, from seeing particular instance! of red 
objects, and then abstracting from them their common 
quality. Similarly, we form Our general notion of right 
and wrong from perceiving particular situations which 
exhibit ethical qualities, whether good or bad, and then 
abstracting the ethical qualities from the particular cases 
which happen to have exhibited them. And just as, in 
the case of red, a particular faculty, namely, the faculty 
of vision, sees what is red, so that, lacking the faculty, 
we should be without the notion of red, so, in the case 
of morals, a particular faculty, the faculty known as the 
moral sense, discerns the moral qualities which the world 
of men and things exhibits, so that, lacking that faculty, 
we should be without moral conceptions. The faculty is 
defined as "the moral sense of beauty in actions and 
affections, by which we perceive virtue or vice in our* 
selves or others". It is implied that actions and situations 
are right or wrong in themselves, that persons and char- 
acters are virtuous and vicious, and that the moral sense 
tells us in regard to each particular one of them whether 
it is right or wrong. 

Thomas Clarke (1675-1729) took the same line, regard* 
ing our judgments of right and wrong and the moral 
obligation which they lay upon us to do the right and 
refrain from the wrong, as arising from and being related 
to essential differences in the nature of things. In developing 
this notion of essential differences Clarke made use of 
an analogy based on physics and mathematics. There is 
in the physical world what he called a "mutual consist- 
ency" among things, that is to say, they "consist" together 
in such a way as to exhibit the workings of law. If every- 
thing in the universe behaved purely individually and 
showed no likeness to the behaviour of anything else, the 
formulation of physical laws would, it is obvious, be impos- 
sible. But such purely individual behaviour is not found. 
Not only docs ice which has been subjected to a certain 


temperature melt, given the same conditions, it always melts 
at the same temperature, one example in the physical world 
thus behaving conformably with the behaviour of another 
like example. It is, therefore, Clarke pointed out, a char- 
acteristic of things to behave lawfully. Mathematics, in 
fact, applies to them. Similarly in the moral sphere; some 
things, he maintained, are conformable with, or are fitted 
to, our will in a way in which others are not This does 
not mean simply that some things obey our wills and others 
thwart them. What it does mean is that some things are 
such as our wills naturally prescribe to us; they are, in 
other words, such as we ought to do. These actions which 
our will naturally prescribes to us possess what Clarke 
called a certain fitness, and this fitness God has given to 
them in just the same way as He has given laws to 
nature. The laws of nature are immutable; so is moral 
fitness, whereby certain kind* of action are conformable 
with our wills. Now it is by means of the moral sense that 
we recognize in regard to actions that they are conform- 
able and such as it is fitting for us to will. 


Butler's Psychology. Statements such as those of 
Hutcheson and Clarke are, so far as concerns their form 
of presentation, little better than dogmatisms. Such and 
such, these philosophers say, is the case; and, broadly 
speaking, they leave it at that It is possible that they are 
right; it is also possible that, as I hinted in the last chapter, 
j udgments to the effect that so and so is ultimately valuable, 
or -that so and so ought to be done, cannot in the long run 
be defended, Nevertheless, there is considerably more to 
be said from the objective intuitionist point of view than 
has so far been suggested. For a more developed statement 
I turn to Bishop Butler (1692-1752). 

Butler's avowed" object is to make an inventory of the con* 
tents of the human mind. His point of view is in part 
ethical; he not only tells us what the various elements 


in human psychology are, he also tells us what ought to be 
the relation between them. Nevertheless, the main trend 
of his work is psychological. Butler is an exceedingly acute 
thinker who states, as dearly perhaps as anybody has 
ever done, the moral principles which govern the actions 
of decent people. In this respect his ethical philosophy 
fulfils what I have suggested on a previous page to be 
the main purpose of ethics, 1 namely, that of analysing 
and clarifying our common moral experience. 

Butler divides human psychology into three main 
elements, just as Plato divides the soul into three parts. 
There is, first, a set of passions or affections; examples of 
these, which we should now call impulses, are anger, 
sexual desire, hunger, envy and malice. Each passion 
or impulse is concerned solely to obtain satisfaction for 
itself, irrespective of the needs of the rest of our natures. 
Secondly, there are two general principles or motives to 
action which Butler calls respectively Benevolence and 
Self-love. Benevolence is a tendency which exists in all 
or most men to seek the greatest happiness of all without 
respect of persons; Self-love, which Butler often calls 
cool Self-love to emphasize its deliberative character, is 
a tendency to seek the greatest happiness of ourselves. 
Thirdly, there is Conscience, a supreme principle set. in 
authority over the rest, whose function it is to determine 
to what extent the particular impulses may be indulged 
and the two general principles, Self-love and Benevolence, 

Analogy Between Human Nature and a Watch. 
Like Plato, Butler identifies moral excellence not ; 
one of these faculties or propensities, but 
relation between them. Each of our faculty 
in itself good; how, indeed, could it 
God implanted them in us? But evil 
wrong relationship between them; any , 
function excessively or insufficiently or 
1 See Chapter V, p. 174. 


In particular, one of the particular impulses may take 
the bit between its teeth and run away with the rest of 
our nature. Hence, it is not enough for the right under- 
standing of human nature to know of what faculties and 
propensities it is composed, any more than it is enough 
for die light understanding of a watch to know that its 
works are composed of spring, cogs and wheels. To under- 
stand the watch, we must know what are the appropriate 
functions of the spring, the cogs and the wheels; we must 
know, in other words, that it is the spring's business to 
turn the cogs and the wheels. Similarly, the person who 
wishes to understand human nature must know what are 
die proper functions of each of its faculties, and what 
its right relation to the others. Butler proceeds to define 
the right relation between the particular passions or 
impulses, the two principles of Benevolence and Self-love, 
and Conscience as follows. The particular impulses should, 
he held, be subordinated to Benevolence and Self-love, 
Benevolence and Self-love to Conscience. When the 
different principles which compose a man's nature are so 
disposed, he is said to be acting in accordance with nature. 
Thus for Butler, as for the Greeks, "natural" conduct is 
ideal conduct; for him, as for Plato, a man who realizes 
the highest or best of which he is capable realizes also 
his own nature. 

The Impulses. It will be worth while to devote 
a little space to the working out of Butler's scheme of 
psychology, not only because of its intrinsic interest, but 
also because in the course of its elaboration he directs a 
fo**"ffi^ criticism against die hedonist contention that 
the object *f all human action is to obtain pleasure for 
the fcgent* Y shall restate and criticize this important 
theory in "Chapter XI. I include Butler's arguments 
here as an txampk of a model piece of psychological 
analysis ratjier than as an exhaustive treatment of the 

See Chapter a, pp. 46-48 mod Chapter XI, pp. 396^415. for an 

*f If ifllMI^H 

W nmOIUKu* 


subject. The validity of Butler's criticism of Hedonism 
depends upon his distinction between the particular 
impulses and Self-love. It is the purpose of Self-love, he 
agrees, to obtain the maxirtnm pleasure for its owner. 
But it is by no means true that we always act from the 
motive of Self-love; we quite frequently act as the result 
of the promptings of one of the particular impulses, and 
the object of such action is not pleasure for the Self, but 
gratification for the impulse in question. Thus the object 
of hunger is food; of revenge, the injury of another; of 
compassion, the relief of another's distress. Now the 
gratification of the impulses may conflict with Self-love, 
Consider, for example, the impulse to boast: the object 
of boasting, when boasting hai an object and is not, like 
singing in one's bath, a motiveless blowing off of psycho- 
logical steam, is to make oneself appear glorious in the 
eyes of others and so to obtain their admiration, or, at 
least, their respect. More precisely, it is to produce a 
change in another's estimate of oneself. In fact, however, 
boasting usually produces precisely the reverse of the 
result intended, the flagrant boaster being generally 
regarded with amused contempt. The impulse to boast is 
primitive and strong, and most small boys accordingly 
boast unashamedly. When they go to school, however, 
they discover that the effects of their boasting are not 
such as are wished, and the process for which public 
schools are celebrated of " knocking the corners off" 
transforms them, in the course of a few years, into the 
ostensibly modest individuals who enter conventional 
society. Thereafter, the impulse to boast is usually sup- 
pressed, except when a man is " in his cups", when the 
inhibitions which experience has built up are temporarily 
weakened, and the native impulse reasserts unashamed 
its claim to gratification. Butler would have put this by 
saying that, since the gratification of the individual's 
impulse to boast is normally opposed to the dictates of 
Self-love, the impulse is in a properly functioning person- 
ality subordinated to the control of Self-love. Moral virtue, 

184 Ernies 

in other words, entails a subordination of the particular 
impulses to the principle of cool Self-love. 

Statement of Psychological Egoism. Butler's position 
entails that some of our actions may be undertaken with 
an object other than that of increasing our own happiness; 
it entails, that is to say, a denial of Psychological Hedonism* 1 
Some impulses, such as the ttnpiilf^ to ring in the bath, 
have no object at all; in the case of others, such as the 
impulse to boast, the object of the impulse is the gratifica- 
tion peculiar to itself. Such gratification may be inimical, 
it may even be consciously inimical, to happiness. 

Butler develops this point with special reference to the 
ethical doctrines of the philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, 
whose views are summarised in Chapter X. Ethically 
Hobbes was what is known as an egoist. Egoism may be 
defined as the view that all our actions have as their 
recognized object die production of some change in the 
state of the agent, and that all our sentiments resolve 
themselves on analysis into a concern for the well-being 
of the person feeling the sentiments. There is, in other 
words, if the egoist is right, no such thing as a disinterested 
action, or a disinterested feeling. The arguments by 
which this view is supported are not in essence different 
from those which I have briefly summarised in Chapter II 1 
in defence of Hedonism, and which will be elaborated 
later in greater detail in Chapter XI. Psychological 
Hedonism is indeed, a special case of Psychological Egoism. 
While Egoism maintains that all actions are designed to 
produce some change in the state of the agent, Hedonism 
asserts that all actions have as their object that particular 
kind of change which consists in an increase of the agent's 
pleasure. It is obvious that the change in a man's con- 
dition which, if the egoist is right, a man's action is 
designed to promote, will in ninety-nine cases out of a 

x For a definition of Psychological as opposed to Ethical Hedonism, 
see Chapter XI, p. 597. 
Sec Chapter II, pp. 46-48. 


hundred be a pleasant one, and most egoists have, in 
fact, been hedonists. An example of the way in which 
an egoistical view can be applied to an apparently dis- 
interested sentiment is Hobbes's account of pity* Pity, 
he defines, as "fear felt for oneself at the Bight of another's 
distress". The distress of another person, in other words, 
only moves us in so far as it causes us to picture ourselves 
in a similar situation. It is, in fact, not the other person 
that we pity at all, but an imagined condition of ourselves. 

Butler's Criticism of the Egoistic Account of Pity and 
Sympathy. Butler's criticism is instructive and may 
be taken as a model reproof for those who, in the interests 
of a delusive simplicity, seek to reduce to a single motivat- 
ing factor pure and simple the complex elements that 
compose even the most single-minded of human senti- 
ments, or inspire even the most straightforward of human 
actions. "The truth," as Algernon says in The Important* 
of Bring Earrust," is rarely pure and never simple." Butler 
begins by pointing out the difficulties in Hobbes's account. 
If, he says, it were true, then the most sympathetic people 
would also be the most nervous since, on Hobbes's showing, 
they would be the people who were most apprehensively 
concerned for their own safety. This, however, is demon* 
strably not the case. Moreover, while we admire those 
who are sympathetic, we are apt to despise those who 
are over-anxious about their own safety, the inference 
being that since sympathy and nervousness promote 
different reactions in other people, they must be recogniz- 
ably different states of consciousness in the person feeling 
them. A third objection is founded on the admitted fact 
that we are apt to feel more sympathy for the misfortunes 
of our friends than for those of strangers. If Hobbes is 
right, we must conclude that the distress of a friend makes 
us more anxious about ourselves than the distress of a 
stranger. This, Butler contends, is not the case; and 
although this contention of his might plausibly be ques- 
tioned, it must, I think, be conceded that, although 


to see my friend run over in the street gives me more 
concern than I would feel if I saw the same accident 
happening to a stranger, it is not true to say that my 
additional distress is felt because the fact that it is my friend 
who is being run over makes me more anxious about myself, 
than I should have been if it were a stranger. 

Having disposed of the over-simplified egoist theory, 
Butler develops his own analysts of the sentiment of pity. 
The pity we fed for a fellow-being in distress is, he holds, 
compounded of, or perhaps I should say is accompanied 
by, three states of mind. There is, first, thankfulness at 
the contrast presented by his condition and our own; 
there is, secondly, anxiety about our own condition so 
far Butler subscribes to Hobbes's egoistical analysis and 
there is, thirdly, what Butler calls genuine sympathy. 
This last element is distinguishable from the others and 
is not resolvable into them. It is, in other words, a unique 
aspect of human experience. 

Butler proceeds to make some interesting strictures 
upon the state of mind responsible for such a theory as 
that of Hobbes. Hobbes is an exceedingly able man; 
what is more, theories which belong to the same 
type as Hobbes's theory, in that they seek to reduce the 
complexity of human motives and the variety of human 
states of consciousness to a single motive, namely, the 
motive of concern for the well-being of the agent, have 
from time to time been advanced by a number of exceed- 
ingly able men. Hedonism, as we shall see, 1 is the out- 
standing example of such a theory, and Hedonism has 
been argued with force and subtlety by a long line of 
distinguished thinkers. Yet both Egoism and Hedonism 
are plainly at variance with the dictates of common sense, 
so much so that, as Butler slyly remarks, nobody but a 
philosopher could have dreamed of maintaining anything 
quite so foolish. Butler, a man of sound common sense, 
would, one imagines, have cordially subscribed to the 
definition of a "silly'* theory suggested by a contemporary 
1 See Chapter XI* 


English philosopher, Professor C, D. Broad, as one which 
could only have been put forward inside a philosophical 

Confusion between the Ownership of an Impulse and 
its Object. The mistake which Hobbes makes and, 
Butler would add, the mistake which all egoists and 
hedonists make, is in Butler's terminology to reduce the 
particular impulses and passions to different expressions 
of Self-love, How does this mistaken reduction so frequently 
to be made? It arises, Butler holds, from two con- 
sions. The first is a confusion between the ownership of an 
ipulse and its object. Now all impulses are owned by 
self, but they do not all have for their object some 
change in the state of the self. Some do; others do not. 
Hunger, for example, is an impulse which has for its 
object some change in the state of the self. Butler, in point 
of fact, says that the object of hunger is food; but this 
is surely wrong. The object of the housewife who is going 
to shop is food. The object of hunger is to fat food and, 
by so doing, to produce an alteration in the sensations 
experienced by the self, an alteration which will substitute 
for the unpleasant sensations connected with hunger the 
pleasant sensations of eating and the pleasant sensation 
of repletion. 

In fact, as Professor Broad has pointed out, the object 
of an impulse is never a person or thing, but is always, 
in so far as it has an object, to produce a change in the 
state of a person or a thing. This correction does not 
affect Butler's argument, which is that only some of our 
impulses are self-regarding in the sense that they have 
as their object some change in the self. Hunger is one 
such impulse, but sympathy is not, since sympathy has 
as its object the production of some change* in the state 
of the person sympathized with. When we sympathize, 
we want to relieve the distress of the person who is the 
object of our sympathy. Now Butler's argument against 
Egoism is briefly this: the fact that all my impulses are 


owned by me, that they i^e, in other words, my impulses, 
does not entitle me to draw the conclusion that they all 
have for their object some change in my condition; some 
do and some do not It is precisely this conclusion that is 
falsely drawn by Egoism. 

The second confasion arises from the fact that the 
satisfaction of any of my impulses gives pleasure, and that 
the pleasure is my pleasure. Now this is true both of those 
impulses that have for their object some change in me, 
and of those that have for their object some change in 
other people or in things. If, for example, I am moved 
by the impulse of hunger or of lust, pleasure attends the 
satisfaction of my impulse and the pleasure in question 
is the ultimate object of my impulse. But if I am moved 
by sympathy or malice, while it is still true that pleasure 
attends the satisfaction of the impulse that moves me, 
the attainment of this pleasure is not its object. The object 
of sympathy is, as we have seen, the relief of another's 
distress, of malice the production of another's misery. It 
is admitted that the satisfaction of these impulses brings 
pleasure to their owner, but to say that the enjoyment of 
this pleasure is his object in satisfying the impulse is to 
put the cart before the horse; for the pleasure cannot, it 
is obvious, occur unless the impulse is satisfied, and the 
satisfaction of the impulse depends on the achievement 
of its object. Where impulses such as those of sympathy 
and malice are concerned, the object of the impulse is 
ex hjpotfosi something other than and prior to the pleasure 
which is dependent on the achievement of the object. 

. The Fallacy of Egoism. The mistake which Egoism 
makes is, then, in Butler's view, to confuse the pleasure 
which attends the gratification of the impulse with the 
object upon the attainment of which the pleasure depends. 
Butler might have added that there are many impulses, 
such as the impulse to sing in one's bath, or to step out 
briskly on a frosty morning, or even to swear when annoyed, 
which, as I have already suggested, proceed from no 


conscious motive and have, therefore, no conscious object. 
If they ha*e no conscious object, they do not have for their 
object the enjoyment of pleasure by the self, as Hedonism 
asserts, or the production of some change in the self, as 
Egoism asserts. 

The general conclusion of Butler's discussion is that no 
impulse has for its object the production of happiness for 
the self. The production of happiness, for the self, is die 
object of the principle of cool Self-love. The pleasure 
which the satisfaction of impulses entails is thus a factor 
in the total happiness at which cool Self-love aims, but it 
is not, therefore, the object aimed at by the impulses. 
The relation of the inipulse* to cool Self-love is, in fact, 
that of a means to an end. The impulses provide, as it 
were, the raw material of which the happiness aimed at 
by cool Self-love is the finished product 

Cool Self-love tad Benevolence. These, as we have 
seen, are regarded by Butler as principles which in a 
properly regulated personality, override the impulses. 
They are concerned to maximize happiness, Self-love that 
of the self, Benevolence that of other people. As I am not 
proposing to summarise the whole of Butler's ethical 
theory, but only to emphasize those parts of it which have 
played an important part in the development of ethical 
philosophy, I shall limit my treatment of these two principles 
to an account of what is perhaps the most distinctive feature 
of Butler's ethics, namely, his attempted establishment of 
the identity of actions proceeding from the two principles. 
Now cool Self-love and Benevolence are, Butler insists, 
different principles. If a man satisfies any impulse, if, for 
example, he gives way to any tendency to action, he will, 
as we have just seen, enjoy some pleasure. By satisfying 
any impulse, therefore, we increase our own happiness and 
w> minister to cool Self-love. But there is no reason to 
suppose that by so doing we necessarily increase the happi- 
ness of others. We do not, in other words, by satisfying 
DUT impulses necessarily further the dictates of Benevolence. 


Thus while no voluntary action of mine can be compltUlj 
inimical to cool Self-love, however disastrous its ultimate 
effects may be, many of my actions may be hostile to 
Benevolence. Thus, if I lose my temper and punch in the 
jaw the person responsible for my annoyance, cool Self-love 
win enjoy a certain amount of satisfaction, even if I am 
knocked down or sent to prison afterwards. But there is no 
ground for supposing that anybody else necessarily derives 
any benefit from my action. The principles being admittedly 
different, it might be supposed that the actions dictated 
by cool Self-love are different from, are, indeed, usually 
opposed to, those proceeding from Benevolence. Butler 
is at pains to show that this is not the case. If we scrupu- 
lously take into account all the foreseeable consequences 
of an action we shall, he says, discover that those actions 
which benefit other people are also those which produce 
the best results for ourselves, while those which harm 
other people are nearly all such as will harm the self. 

That Actions which Harm Others Always (or nearly 
Always) Harm the Self. The contrary belief is, Butler 
thinks, due to another confusion, a confusion between 
means and ends. Owing to. the dominating part played 
by money in our civilization, we are apt to forget that 
money is not a good in itself, but is only a means to the 
attainment to other goods. Money, for example, is not life, 
although it is the counter which enables life to be dis- 
tributed socially: money is not happiness, although when 
used in certain ways it may produce happiness, and it is 
very difficult to enjoy happiness without some money. 
The confusion between means and ends seems in the case 
of money to be obvious enough; yet we are all guilty 
of making it on occasion, and some of us misers, for 
example are guilty of tffllripg it almost all the time. 
Now it is perfectly true that, if I have a sum of money, 
the more of it I spend on myself, the less will I have to 
spend on dther people. So far, then, as money is concerned 
the dictates of Self-love and Benevolence do appear to 


conflict, but it does not follow that they conflict when 
applied to the goods to which money is a means, If, for 
example, I spend four-fifths of a sum of money on myself, 
I shall probably obtain more happiness by spending 
the remaining one-fifth upon other people than by spending 
this too upon myself. Hence it is not the case that the 
dictates of Self-love and Benevolence necessarily conflict 
in regard to the goods obtained by money, although they 
do conflict in regard to money itself, which is the means to 
the 'attainment of such goods. 

Butler adduces other arguments to show that the results 
of acting benevolently are nearly always such as are 
consonant with the dictates of Self-love, and that, vict 
versa, when we act in such a way as to harm other people, 
we usually harm ourselves. He cites the case of revenge. 
In all ages poets and moralists have descanted on the 
disappointing results of vengeance. Apart from the feelings 
of remorse which usually follow a successful act of 
vengeance, the revengeful person often exposes himself 
to retaliation from the friends or relations of his victim. 
Again, the man who is habitually malicious, by making 
himself generally unpopular diminishes his own happiness 
by reason of the dislike in which he comes to be held. In 
general, Butler argues, it is a shortsighted policy to injure 
other people. Such injury often oppears to conduce to 
our immediate advantage, but in die long run it will 
be found to injure ourselves as well as others. 

Comment on Alleged Identity Between Conduct Dic- 
tated by Self-love and Benevolence. Butler prob- 
ably exaggerates the degree of coincidence between 
conduct respectively inspired by Self-love and Benevolence, 
for it is not difficult to imagine cases in which the two 
principles would be opposed. If, for example, I am ship- 
wrecked on a desert island with three companions and 
know (a) where there is a store of food sufficient to keep 
one person, but only one, alive for a week, and (6) that 
a ship will rescue me in a week, cool Self-love presumably 


demamb that I should not reveal the whereabouts of the 
store of food to my companions, while Benevolence would, 
I imagine, dictate the contrary course. Indeed, it may be 
said (bit, since to reveal the store of food would mean the 
death of all of us, the amount being inadequate to maintain 
four persons, whfle its secret consumption by myself would 
preserve my own life, die obligation which 1 am under 
to promote the greatest amount of happiness on the 
whole, an obligation which the utilitarians were subse- 
quently to invoke, 1 demands that I should keep the 
knowledge of the food to myself for, in addition to 
surviving, I may quite possibly live happily ever after. 

It may be doubted, moreover, whether in a society of 
persons completely devoid of Benevolence, Benevolence 
would ever pay, for Benevolence by A only leads to the 
gratification of A's Self-love because and in so far as it 
tends to provoke 'a return in kind from its objects. As the 
mystics would put it, the way to make people lovable is 
to love them. 

But, as Butler points out, the motives of most people 
ait mixed; acting neither from pure Self-love nor from 
pure Benevolence, they can usually be relied upon to 
repay benevolent conduct in others by benevolent conduct 
on their own part Thus it is a good general rule that in 
a normal society a benevolent action conduces to the 
advantage of the agent 

That Happiness and Virtue often Coincide. Two 
deductions of interest may be drawn. The first is that, if 
people would act benevolently more often than they do, 
the would would be a happier place; happier not only 
because of die benefits conferred by Benevolence upon its 
objects, but also because of the benefits which benevolent 
conduct brings to its agent. People, in other words, would 
have a better time, if they would only consent to be more 
virtuous. As with individuals, so with nations. Many 
nations in pursuit of what they believe to be self-interest 
1 See Chapter IX, pp. 332-336- 


act malevolently towards their neighbours. The policy 
pursued by France towards Germany in the years imme- 
diately succeeding the war owed its inspiration in almost 
equal degrees to malevolence and the desire for vengeance. 
The results show how much better it would have been for 
the French to have been guided by cool Self-love. Germany, 
maddened by the rejection of all her overtures for a 
sympathetic understanding, and outraged by the con- 
tinual breaking on the part of others of pledges which she 
had been compelled to observe, presently developed a 
militant intransigeance which the French do right to fear. 
In general, there is much to be said for Butler's view 
that those actions which are the most hurtful to others, 
are never those which a man who aimed at the maximum 
happiness for himself would perform. The contrary is 
also true. If men acted rationally, that is to say, in the way 
which was most likely to bring about the ends they desire, 
Utopia might well be realized. But most men are actuated 
by impulses and passions which cloud their judgment and 
persuade them that, by injuring those whom they fear or 
dislike, they will advantage themselves. It is one of the 
paradoxes of human conduct that men do not, as a general 
rule, act in a way which is calculated to advance their own 
interest from rational motives, although self-interest is one 
of the objects of rational desire. It is only when they are 
actuated by generous motives which are as a rule indifferent 
to their own interest, that they in fact advance it. The para- 
dox arises from the fact that those actions which are likely 
to promote the maximum happiness of the self are usually 
identical with those which will be likely to benefit others; 
or, as Butler would say, actions respectively dictated by 
the promptings of cool Self-love and Benevolence tend to 
be identical. 

The second deduction, one which Butler himself draws, 
is that, because of the close coincidence between the 
actions prompted by cool Self-love and Benevolence, it is 
often very difficult to say with certainty from which of the 
two principles a particular action does' in feet proceed. 


194 ' &THIC8 

Motives, as I remarked above, are usually mixed, and 
die prompting of many actions probably owes something 
to both principles^ What is more, it is often difficult to 
distinguish actions dictated by one or other of the two 
principles from those prompted by the particular impulses. 
The practical corollary of this difficulty of determining the 
nature of motives is, presumably, tolerance, for, where 
the motives by which people are actuated remain doubtful, 
it is charitable to give them the benefit of the doubt 

Conscience. Hie original purpose of this account of 
Butler's philosophy was, it will be remembered, to provide 
an illustration of the type of ethical theory known as 
Objective-Intuitionism. It is by reason of his treatment of 
i that Butler qualifies as an objective-intuitionist. 

Conscience is, for Butler, the supreme faculty which, in 
a properly regulated nature, is in control of all the others* 
Just as Self-love and Benevolence are in authority over 
the particular impulses and determine to what extent 
they may be gratified, so Conscience is in authority over 
both Self-love, and Benevolence. Butler treats Conscience 
under two aspects, the cognitive, or knowing, and the 
authoritative or prescribing* The cognitive aspect of 
Conscience expresses itself in reflecting and judging* 
Conscience, that is to say, reflects upon and judges the 
characters and motives of human bongs, but its reflections 
and judgments are informed by a particular kind of 
interest It is interested in characters, actions and motives 
not for themselves, but only in so far as they can appro- 
priately be made the objects of moral judgment; in so 
far, in other words, as they are capable of being judged to 
be right or wrong. Many actions, for example the action 
of extracting from a full box of matches the match which 
is next but three from the tefthand side of the box in the 
top row, are, Butler would agree, ethically neutral and in 
them Conscience has no interest* 

What are the grounds for postulating the existence 
of such a faculty? Butler's main ground is that we do 


habitually use such words as "right" and "duty", and that 
these words have a meaning for us. Moreover, we are 
enabled by reflection to distinguish the meaning of these 
words from that of words whose meaning is allied but 
different. For example, we distinguish between a right 
action and an expedient action; between a wrong action 
and one which was well-intentioned, but whose conse- 
quences turned out to be unfortunate; between injuring 
a person intentionally and unintentionally* There must, 
then, says Butler, be a faculty which recognizes these 
meanings and distinguishes these differences, just as there 
must be a faculty that of vision which distinguishes 
red from blue. 

The Notion of Merit or Desert Conscience, as But- 
ler describes it, is far removed from the blind, instinctive 
faculty whose uncontrolled operations are responsible 
for so much blame, remorse and mortification in ordinary 
life. One knows only too well the people who are ready 
to invoke the dictates of their "consciences," whenever 
they want an excuse for being disagreeable. . . . Butler's 
Conscience is a highly reasonable and reflective faculty; 
it is prepared to make allowances and to take account 
of circumstances. 'For example, when making its judgment 
upon the moral worth of actions, Conscience takes account 
of merit or desert. Let us suppose, for instance, that we see 
A hurting B. Lacking information as to the reason of 
A's action, Conscience cannot but feel an instinctive 
disapproval, but before passing a final verdict an 
enlightened conscience would insist on all the information 
relevant to a judgment of disapproval being available. 
Suppose, for example, that B had committed a serious 
and unprovoked offence against A; then it might be 
thought that B's present sufferings constituted a well-merited 
punishment for his unprovoked offence. Because, in other 
words, Conscience judges a particular punishment to be 
merited, it may approve of an action of which in other 
circumstances it would disapprove. 

ig6 ' ETHICS 

The notion of merit or desert which requires us when 
judging actions, especially those of a retributive type, to 
take into account the past relations between the person acting 
and the person who suffers, or benefits from, the action, 
figures prominently in writings op ethics. We must, it is 
obvious, when passing moral judgment, take all the cir- 
cumstances into account, a fact which makes it extremely 
difficult to say precisely what it is that, in the case 
of a moral judgment, is to be regarded as the object 
of the judgment I shall develop this point on a later page. 1 

Conscience, again, must, Butler insists, when passing 
judgment upon actions, take into account the character 
and disposition of the agent. You would naturally expect 
different behaviour from a lunatic and from a sane man, 
from a savage and a civilized man, from a child and an 
adult. In judging, therefore, whether the action is such 
as the agent ought to have done, Conscience must con* 
aider what may reasonably be expected of him. Conscience 
must, in other words, judge by the standard appropriate 
to die behaviour of the person whose actions are in question. 
The notion of standard entails that of ideal. Butler's sug- 
gestion is, then, that we shall have in our minds, when 
judging, some ideal conception of the savage, the civilised 
man, the child and the adult, and then consider how 
far the conduct under judgment approximates to it 

The Authority of Conscience. More important than 
the cognitive is die authoritative aspect of Conscience. 
In the account of Aristotle's ethics 8 1 included a discussion 
of the parts played by reason and feeling respectively 
in die motivation of action, mentioning in particular 
Aristotle's general view that it is desire that sets the ends 
of our actions, while reason plans the steps for their 
attainment The question, what part of our natures is it 
that is responsible for our actions, is highly important for 
ethical theory, if only because, as I shall try to show in 

1 See Chapter VIII, pp. 387-202. 
* See Chapter IV, pp. 110-116. 


the next chapter, 1 the possibility of free will turns upon the 
answer that we give to it* It is plausible to suppose that 
we are not responsible for our feelings, and if feeling alone 
can motivate action, we are not, it would seem, responsible 
for our actions. In endowing Conscience with authority 
over action, Butler is thus taking sides on an important 
controversial issue, for what, in effect, he is saying is that 
Conscience has not merely the cognitive property of 
recognizing what is right and what wrong, but also what 
may be called an "inclining" property, the property, 
that is to say, of being able strongly to incline or motivate 
us to do what is recognized to be right. I say "strongly 
to incline or motivate", since if we were absolutely obliged 
to do what Conscience prescribed, there would be no 
freedom and, therefore, no such thing as moral worth. 

Conscience, Self-love, Benevolence all these pronounce 
upon the desirability or otherwise of certain courses of 
action, approving or disapproving according to their 
lights; but while Self-love disapproves on the ground 
that a particular action is imprudent, and Benevolence on 
the ground that it is inimical to the happiness of others, 
Conscience alone disapproves because it is wrong. 

Butler's Hierarchy of Faculties. Butler arranges his 
three principles in a hierarchy. Conscience is, as we have 
seen, the supreme principle; whether, therefore, it does 
or does not control the other two, it always ought to do so, 
and in an ideal personality it always would do so. If 
Self-love and Benevolence conflict, there is nothing in the 
nature of either to give it authority over the other, but 
Conscience is endowed with an over-riding authority, and, 
if we will to invoke it, it will always answer our caH. We 
can, that is to say, by means of Conscience, always check 
over-indulgence in either cool Self-love or in Benevolence; 
in cool Self-love on the ground that over-indulgence 
is selfish, in Benevolence on the ground that we are being 
tempted to neglect our own health and happiness, or even 
1 See Chapter VII, pp. 267-1171. 


the obligation which we have to develop our own person- 
alities, enlarge our intellects and develop our tastes, 
because of our absorption in work for the welfare of others. 
For, as Butter points out, even Benevolence can be over- 
done, though its excess is neither so frequent nor so blame- 
worthy as that of Self-love* It is -not so frequent, because 
there is a general tendency to love oneself more than to* 
love others; it is not so blameworthy, because in a society 
in which too few are benevolent, that is to say in every 
society that has ever existed, an excess of Benevolence 
on the part of some does in fact conduce to the welfare of 
most Excess of Benevolence is, nevertheless, blameworthy 
as tending to destroy the right relation between the different 
elements in human nature upon which Bugler has insisted 
as the foundation of virtue. It is the business of Co 

the over-riding principle, to maintain this right relation. 

Neglect of Conscience. Conscience 
to fall into neglect in the twentieth century, 
partly because it was overworked in the nineteenth. In the 
nineteenth century, elder persons habitually invoked Con- 
science to justify their natural dislike of seeing their 
juniors participating in enjoyments which age or lack of 
charm denied to themselves. In the twentieth century 
they tend to explain it away altogether, and, instigated 
thereto by psycho-analysis, profess to find its origins in 
feelings of guilt born of inhibitions and renunciations in 
early childhood. "Conscience," Freud defines as "the 
result of instinctual renunciation, or/ 9 he continues, 
"Renunciation (externally imposed) gives rise to coo- 
science, which then demands further renunciations." 
Subjectwe-Intuitionism, as we shall see in Chapter X 1 
regards Conscience as a form of inherited instinct which 
prompts the individual to perform those actions which 
will conduce to die advantage of the society to which he 
belongs, or rather -for there is often a time lag before 
the dictates of Conscience conform to the new needs of 
* See Chapter X, pp. 


a changing society of the society to which his ancestors 
belonged. Conscience is in fact, on this view, society's 
spy planted in the individual's soul. 

Such theories deny that Conscience is a unique faculty, 
and analyse it into simpler and more primitive elements. 
Just as it might be said that there are by nature no such 
things as omelettes in the world, but only their constituent 
eggs and butter, so psycho-analysts, subjective-intuitionists 
and many modern psychologists are inclined to say that 
there is by nature no such thing as Conscience in the 
human make-up, but only instincts, renunciations of 
instincts and feelings of guilt arising from such renunci- 
ations. These views are at once the prop and the mirror 
of the tendency of the times, which is to deny the existence 
of innate moral faculties invested with unique and absolute 
authority. To those who are steeped in contemporary 
psychological views, Butler's doctrines cannot but appear 
to be unduly naive and simple. There are, however, two 
elucidatory comments to be made which, by qualifying 
the apparent simplicity of Butler's doctrine on the subject 
of Conscience, may have the effect of rendering it more 

The Economical Use of Conscience* First, Butler 
does not maintain that every detail of our lives ought to 
be regulated by Conscience; on the contrary, he suggests 
that, the more Conscience is kept in the background, the 
better. It is a commonplace upon whose significance I 
shall touch later, 1 that the best way to obtain happiness 
is not deliberately to seek it. Similarly with moral virtue; 
the best way to achieve it is not to keep its importance 
constantly in mind; that way priggishness lies. It is bad 
for our temperaments to be continually taking our moral 

Butler is fully alive to these dangers. His ideal is not 
that our actions should be constantly "vetted" by Con- 
science, but that they should be such as Conscience would 
1 See Chapter XI, pp. 409-409. 


approve, if it "vetted" them. We should, that is to say, 
habitually act from Self-love or from Benevolence or from 
one of the particular impulses, but, Butler adds, in a 
properly regulated nature such action would be in ac- 
cordance with the dictates of Conscience, should it be 
called upon to judge them. A brief presentation of 
Butler's scheme would, therefore! run as follows* The 
particular in*p^f supply the raw materials of good and 
evil; these raw materials are in the first instance organized 
into what we know as character by cool Self-love and 
Benevolence, and cool Self-love and Benevolence are 
themselves supervised and regulated by Conscience. The 
good man is not one who is constantly taking stock of his 
actions and submitting them to the bar of moral enquiry, 
with a view to determining whether the approved relation 
between the impulses, the two principles and Conscience 
has in fact been observed; he is one who habitually does 
what is right, without stopping to think whether it is 
tight or not. Conscience is, indeed, in him like the good 
headmaster or business manager, who can absent himself 
from his school or business in the reasonable assurance 
that everything will go on in just the same way as it would 
have done had he been present. Thus Butler would agree 
with Aristotle that goodness of character is "a settled 
condition of the soul 99 , 1 which naturally and habitually 
expresses itself in actions of a certain sort, these being 
the actions of which Conscience would approve, even 
though it is not actually called upon to deliver judgment. 
In the second place, Butler does not, of course, maintain 
that Conscience always is in control; all that he says is 
that in a properly regulated nature it ought to be in 
control, and that in any nature, however debased, it is 
always possible for it to assume control. Butler maintains, 
in other words, that we are free, free, that is to say, to go 
wrong, but also free, however much we may have gone 
wrong, to recover our ground and begin to go right. He 
sees in fact that morality depends upon the freedom of 
1 See Chapter IV, p. 99. 


the will, for if we could only do what is right, morality, 
as we know it, would not exist. But equally it would not 
exist if, having done wrong, and done wrong habitually, 
we could not repent and reform, for the conception of 
moral obligation implies that, if we ought to do a thing, 
we always can do it. This conception we must now consider 
in the form in which it was developed by its most forth- 
right exponent, Immanucl Kant (1724-1804), whom 
many would consider to be the most important, not only 
of the objective-intuitionists, but of all writers upon the 
subject of ethics. The question of the possibility of human 
freedom will be discussed in the next chapter. 


Metaphysical Significance of Kant's Moral Theory. 
Kant's moral philosophy is intimately bound up with 
his metaphysics, nor can it be adequately understood 
apart from his theory of the nature of the universe as a 
whole. Those who wish to obtain a general understanding 
of this theory, will find an outline of it in Chapter XIV 
of my Guide to Philosophy. For the purpose of the present 
discussion, the reader must be content with the bald state- 
ment that Kant divides the universe into two parts or 
worlds. There is, he holds, the world of things as they are 
in themselves, aftd there is the world of things as they 
appear to us. The second world is necessarily and always 
different from the first, since in knowing things the human 
mind changes them, imposing upon them a framework 
of qualities and relations which they do not possess in 
themselves. Just as a man who was born with a pair of blue 
spectacles permanently affixed to his nose would assert 
that everything was blue, and just as the blueness would, 
nevertheleM, not belong to the things which he saw but 
would be a quality imposed upon them by the conditions 
under which he saw than that he should see them to 
be blue would, in fact, be a condition of his seeing them 
at all so, Kant held, everything we know possesses 

aoa * ETHICS 

properties derived from the human mind. These properties 
the human mind has imposed upon it in the process 
of knowing it. Examples tif such properties are those of 
quality and quantity, the property of being the cause of 
something and the effect of something else, and the pro- 
perties of being in space and in time. As a consequence, 
we never know anything as it really is; we only know it as 
it appears* 

Tp this extent everybody is enclosed within the horizon 
of an environment which his own mind has at least partially 
constructed. Outside this environment, he can know 
nothing, since in the very act of trying to know it he would 
impose upon it the categories of his mind, and so bring 
within the circle of his self-made world that which he was 
trying to know. The word "know" is, however, in this 
connection, to be interpreted in a limited sense as denoting 
what philosophers call more technically cognition, that is, 
to say, knowledge of things, ideas and truths. It stands for 
the activity of the mind's strictly intellectual faculties, but 
it by no means covers all its faculties. In particular, it does 
not cover the moral faculty. Now moral experience, 
Kant maintains, is itself a kind of knowledge, for we know 
in moral experience, and know quite indubitably, what we 
ought to do whether we in fact do it or not, and, in s6 far 
as we have this moral knowledge, we make contact, in 
Kant's view, with the world of things as they really are. 
Moral experience is, therefore, for Kant, of the greatest 
metaphysical significance, since it and it alone provides 
for human consciousness a way out of the limiting circle 
of the world of things as they appear to us, and into the 
world of things as they really are. 

Kant's Psychological Theory. Kant's reasons for at- 
tributing to the moral faculty this peculiar significance 
are briefly as follows. He divides man's psychological 
faculties into three main groups, the senses, the intellect, 
and die will. The senses and the intellect are, as I have 
said, precluded from a direct knowledge of reality by their 


introduction of a mental element into the raw material 
of experience) an element which is contributed by the mind 
and is present from the first Thus, sensuous experience and 
intellectual knowledge both give information about a 
world which we have partly constructed. But, when we 
will something, we obtain, Kant held, a kind of knowledge 
which is neither sensuous nor intellectual. We are not in 
willing making contact with a world of things as they appear 
to us, upon which we have imposed the properties of our 
own minds, nor do our moral experiences reach us through 
the forms of space and time. The exercise of the will is a 
free activity in virtue of which we can use our sensuous 
and intellectual knowledge as we please. It brings also a 
sense of emancipation from the law of cause and effect 
which dominates the world of things as they appear to us, 
no less than from the laws of logical necessity which con- 
strain the operations of the reason. 

The Self from the Standpoint of the Sciences. In 
so far as we act in accordance with desire, Kant held that 
we are not free* He pointed out that, if we consider our 
actions from the points of view of biology, of anthropology, 
or of psychology, it is very difficult to resist the conclusion 
that they are determined. The biologist sees a man as a 
member of a particular species which happens to have 
evolved, endowed with a general inheritance of impulse, 
faculty, and desire, which is characteristic of his species. 
The anthropologist sees him as a member of a particular 
race which has reached a certain stage of development, 
presetting the intellectual and emotional equipment 
appropriate to that race at that stage of development. 
The psychologist applies to the individual a mode of treat- 
ment similar to that which the biologist applies to the 
species wad the anthropologist to the race. He treats him 
as a being endowed initially with a certain psychological 
and physiological make-up. He is scheduled a? having 
tuch and such congenital tendencies which develop in 
such and such an environment, and he is pictured, as a 


result, as growing up into an adult person possessing such 
and such a nature with such and such tastes, prepossessions, 
prejudices, desires, and thoughts. These) taken in sum, 
determine both the contents of his consciousness and die 
actions in which they express themselves. An analysis 
of the individual along these lines has already been sug- 
gested in a preceding chapter; and, inevitably, its 
outcome is the philosophical doctrine of self-determinism 
sketched in Chapter IV. 1 To these analyses of the self 
by the methods of the various special sciences Kant was 
prepared to subscribe. In so fair as human beings are 
considered from the point of view of biology, anthropology 
and psychology, in so far, that is to say, as they are con- 
sidered from die standpoint of the special sciences, there 
can, he held, be no doubt of their complete subjection to 
the law of cause and effect. They are, therefore, com- 
pletely determined. "Man," Kant wrote, "is one of the 
phenomena of the sense world, and he, too, is in so far one 
of the nature causes whose causality must stand under 
empirical laws. As such, he must have an empirical 
nature. . . ." A man's every-day personality is, in. other 
words, itself a member of the world of things as they appear 
and is, therefore, to this extent not entirely real But there 
is, Kant hold, another self, which Kant called the " trans- 
cendental self," by virtue of which man participates in the 
world of things as they are. 

Introduction of the Conception of Ought Now it is 
die transcendental self which is the source of moral experi- 
ence. As such, it is sharply distinguished from what Kant 
called the "empirical self," whidh is the sdf of every-day 
experience, and is a chaos of wishes and desires. Arcreatures 
of desire we belong to the world of things as they appear, 
and our feelings and actions are as completely determined 
as the movements of matter in the physical world. But when 
we act in accordance with the law which our moral will 
prescribes, we escape from the world of appearance and 
1 See Chapter IV, pp. 111-116. 


establish contact with reality. In so far, in feet, as a man 
wills freely in accordance with the laws of his own nature, 
he it a member of the world of things as they are; that 
is to say, he walls as a member of reality. 

For, Kant points out, the feeling of moral obligation 
is something which cannot be accounted for by an ex* 
animation of the world of things as they appear. Psychology 
can tell us what we are and what we want to do; it cannot 
tell us what we ought to be and what it is our duty to do. 
Thus the conception of "ought" is on an entirely different 
plane from the conception of "is". It presupposes that 
when we have finished with our analysis of a man's ante- 
cedents and character, the analysis which tells us what he is, 
and how, in virtue of the fact that he is what he is, he is 
naturally disposed to act, we can still assume that it is 
in his power to act differently. We can still say, 'Yes, 
I agree that, given his heredity and constitution, he had a 
strong instinctive disposition to act in this way and every 
justification for obeying his natural disposition; neverthe- 
less, I still maintain that he ought to have acted in that 
way", and in saying that 'he ought to have acted in that 
way', we are also implying that he was free to act 'in 
that way', since it is nonsense to say that a man ought to 
do what he cannot do. The consciousness of moral ob- 
ligation is thus "inextricably bound up with the con- 
consciousness of the freedom" of the self that wills, which 
is the transcendental self. One knows, Kant insisted, "that 
one can act because one is conscious that one ought, and 
thus one knows in oneself the freedom which without 
the moral law had remained unknown." It is for this 
reason that Kant, in speaking of the obligation to do one> 
duty, employs the phrase "the categorical imperative". 
Whereas most of our actions are conditioned by an "if" 
if wt want so and so* we must act in such and such a way 
and so are "hypo the tically determined", the obligation 
to do our duty is governed by no such condition. We ought, 
we feel, to da it, whether we want to do it or not, and we 
shall continue to feel this, even if we habitually fell to do it. 


Uniqueness of the Concept of "Ought 11 Now this 
consciousness of "ought" is a unique feet, a fact of a kind 
which it not anywhere to be found in the world of thing! 
as they appear. "Obligation," Kant says, "expresses a 
sort of necessity . . .- which occurs nowhere else in nature. 
It is impossible that anything. in nature ought to b* other 
than in feet it is. 1 In truth, obligation if one has before 
one's eyes only the succession in nature has simply and 
solely no meaning. We can as little ask what ought to 
happen in nature as what attributes a circle ought to have." 
It is because it recognizes the validity of "ought 11 , that 
Kant gives a unique position to what he calls the good 
will, which is the source of moral action. "There is," he 
maintains! "nothing in the world nay, even beyond 
x the world, nothing conceivable, which can be regarded 
as good without qualification, saving alone a good will." 
The moral will is thus, by virtue of the obligation that 
it recognizes, placed outside the causal sequence which 
operates universally in the world of things as they appear. 
Nor can its content, that is to say, the course of action 
which it prescribes, be derived from reflection upon things 
as they appear. The very feet that it takes no account of 
likes and dislikes, that it is indifferent to circumstances, 
suggests that it is not the reflection of likes and dislikes 
or the product of circumstances. Whence, then, is it 
derived? Kant answers, from the nature of man regarded 
as a moral being. Hence man as a moral being is not 
an inhabitant of the world of tilings as they appear, but 
is a member of the world of things as they are. For this 
reason, when he obeys the moral law, he is spoken of as 
obeying a law that comes from himself from himself, 
that is to say, considered as a real and rational being 
and not as a member of the world of causes and effects. 
This obedience to the moral law, which is also moral free- 
dom, is something which cannot be explained. For ex- 
planation is the work of understanding, and whatever 
the understanding understands, assunuts, just because it 
is understood, the status of a member of the world of tilings 


as they appear, and is tx typothesi therefore, something 
other than moral obligation and the moral law which 
obligation recognizes. 

Nevertheless, the sense of moral obligation is a feet, a 
fact which, Kant has tried to show, derives its authority 
from the real world, the corollary being that, in virtue 
of our ability to recognize its promptings and obey its 
commands, we, in respect of our moral selves, own mem* 
bership of that world. 

Such, in outline, is Kant's theory of morals* Its strength 
lies in the distinction which we do undoubtedly make 
between is and ought; between what is the case and what 
ought to be. In the world that we know by means of the 
senses and the intellect we can only, Kant asserts, find fact. 
Such a world cannot, then, contain a basis for die notion 
of ought; yet we do undoubtedly recognize "oughts". 
Therefore, the source of these "oughts" must lie in some 
world other than that revealed to the semes and known by 
the intellect, and it must be by means of a unique faculty 
that we recognize them. This faculty, which Kant calls " the 
moral will," not only recognizes, but feels an obligation to 
act in accordance with the dictates of the "ought" which 
it recognizes. The obligation, however, though it is always 
open to us to give heed to it, is never compulsory; for not 
only is the moral will free in respect of its deliverances, but 
we are free to obey it or not as we please. 

What the Moral Will Prescribes. So fer, we have 
learnt only that we ought to act in the way which the 
moral will prescribes. Can we give any indication of what 
it does prescribe? Kant held that we could. What the 
moral will prescribes is that we should act in every case 
upon general principles which are intuitively recognized 
to be morally binding. These general principles are of the 
kind which every man acknowledges irrespective of his 
needs and circumstances; for example, that lying is wrong, 
that promises should be kept, that kindness is better than 
cruelty, honesty better than deceit, and so forth. 


Nor are they in any way opposed to reason. On the 
contrary, if we investigate the deliverances of our moral wills 
by means of reason, we realize that the general principles 
which the will prescribes are the only ones which are not 
self-contradictory. There is, for example, no contradiction 
inherent in the precept that everybody should tell the truth; 
but if everybody were to lie, nobody would believe any* 
body else, and there would be no point, therefore, in lying. 
This is what Kant incans by saying that wrong conduct 
is self-contradictory; it cannot be universalized without 
stultifying itself. /Hence Kant's famous precept: "Act 
only according to that maxim which you can a* the same 
time will to be a universal law." 

Evil Parasitic upon Good Kant is here emphasizing 
an important truth. All wrong action, as I have had 
occasion to point out in another connection, 1 is parasitic, 
parasitic, that is to say, upon right action. Consider, for 
example, the above-mentioned case of lying. Lying, I 
pointed out in the earlier discussion, is only profitable to 
some people because most people tell the truth. For the 
object of the liar is to get credence for his statement; the 
extent to which he will succeed in doing this depends upon 
the amount of credence which people habitually give to 
the statements made to them, and this in its turn will 
depend upon the general amount of truth-telling in the 
community. Thus the more frequently most people tell the 
truth, the more profitable does lying become for the few 
who do not. Similarly with honesty: if everybody were 
dishonest, nobody would trust anybody else and dishonesty, 
which depends for its success upon people's willingness to 
trust their fellows, would cease to pay. Dishonesty, in 
short, only pays the few, when it does pay them, because 
the many are habitually honest The case of theft illustrates 
the same truth. If everybody were a burglar, there would 
be nothing to steal, and the occupation of burgling would 
therefore, cease to be profitable. It is only because most 
1 See die discuwion in Chapter I, pp. 39, 40. 


people are prepared to accumulate property 'by lawful 
methods, that it is worth while for some people to try and 
disembarrass them of it by unlawful ones. 

The fact that evil is in this sense parasitic upon good, 
that it is, in other words, the prevalence of good conduct 
among the many that mftkfff bod conduct attractive to some, 
has a political significance, to which I shall have occasion 
to refer to in a later chapter relating to the coercive 
function of the State. 1 

Its present relevance is to serve as an illustration of Kant's 
general principle, that moral conduct can be universalized 
without contradiction, while immoral conduct cannot. 
Hence, he says, we should always act in a way such that 
we can wiH everybody ebe to act in the same way with- 
out producing conflict or contradiction. 

Not Making Exceptions in the Self's Favour. Kant's 
maxim has a further significance. A great part of what we 
call wrong action consists in doing in one's own person 
something that one would reprobate in another. Every- 
body recognizes certain duties, even if it is only the duty 
to promote his own maximum self-development. When 
one acts in a way which one believes to be wrong, pre- 
ferring the indulgence of one's own desires to following 
the dictates of the moral imperative, one is condoning in 
oneself a deviation from moral rules which one would 
censure in another. One is, that is to say, making an 
exception in one's owit favour. But if everybody habitually 
made exceptions in his own favour, ordered society would 
rapidly become impossible. For example, I may permit 
myself to travel on a special occasion without a railway 
ticket because, let us say, I have no money, or because 
I want to spend whatever money I have on something 
else; but if everybody habitually indulged himself in this 
way at the expense of the railway company, the company 
would go bankrupt and railway travel would cease. Kant, 
therefore, makes the point that it is characteristic of moral 
1 See Chapter XIX, pp. 778-781. 


rules, that they should apply equally to everybody. We are 
all, in short, equal before the moral law. It is no excuse, 
he holds, for breaking it, to say that one is '/specially 
circumstanced" or "peculiarly tempted". One has to a *k 
oneself, what would be the effect if everybody were to 
make similar excuses on his own behalf? Thus it is a 
sign of moral conduct that it can be universalized, that is, 
observed by everybody without producing an impossible 
situation; it is a sign of immoral conduct that it cannot, 

That People should be treated as Ends, never merely as 
Means. A further maxim which Kant deduces from 
the nature of the moral law is the following: "Act so that 
you treat humanity, in your own person and in the person 
of everyone else, always as an end as well as a means, 
never merely as a means." In virtue of their possession 
of a moral faculty, human beings are, as we have seen, 
participators in reality; they are, that is to say, from 
Kant's point of view, "ends in themselves". It follows 
that we are never justified in treating them as if they 
were merely means to ends beyond themselves, as stepping- 
stones, for example, in a career prompted by ambition, 
as instruments for the satisfaction of sexual desire, or as 
objects for the gratification of sadistic instincts. To take 
vengeance on a person for one's own satisfaction, or to 
waste a person's life in ministering to one's own comfort, 
is to use that person as a means to an end beyond himself. 
But, Kant insists, there is no end which can justify such a 
subordination, for there is no end that is ultimately and 
absolutely valuable save moral worth, and it is moral 
worth which is impaired when a person is treated other- 
wise than as an end. The State, then, is never justified 
in treating a citizen solely as the instrument of its pur- 
poses. 1 

Strength of Kant's Position. Kant's insistence on the 
absolute character of the moral imperative is apt to sound 
1 See Chapter XIX, pp. 805-806, for *n expansion of thif statement. 


a little strangely to modern ears. Nevertheless, his position 
has considerable force. This is due to its undoubted success in 
providing an understandable account of the significance of 
the word "ought", and a reasonable explanation of the 
feeling of moral obligation for which the word "ought" 
stands. "I want to do this"; "I have a strong temptation 
to do this"; "I shall grow rich, powerful or popular by 
doing this"; "I shall be happy if I do this"; "I shall 'get 
away with it' if I do this" none of these statements 
needs to be explained to us before we .can understand 
its significance. But when we proceed to add, "Neverthe- 
less, I ought to do that", the position is different. Some 
explanation of the word "ought" is, it is obvious, required. 
Nor is it readily forthcoming. Examine the world around 
us, explore physical nature, analyse and describe human 
society, and you will accumulate information about what 
is; you will, in short, ascertain facts. But you will not dis- 
cover what should be; the information that you obtain 
will not include "oughts". The most elaborate examination 
of fact will not be found to yield a single "ought". Whence, 
then, do "oughts" derive? Kant's explanation is that 
they arise, or rather that the recognition of them arises 
in a part of our being by virtue of which we participate 
in a world other than the world of fact, in the everyday 
sense of the word "fact". The notion of moral obligation 
comes to us, in other words, from reality, and in and 
through it alone do we make contact with reality. This 
explanation covers very satisfactorily the moral experience 
of simple and uninstructed persons. For this, as I pointed 
out above, 1 often expresses itself in judgments which 
possess a directness and authority lacking in those of more 
sophisticated people. The moral experience which leads 
them to pass these judgments is, it is obvious, fresh and 
vivid. Since we are unable to trace the source of these 
judgments to reflection upon the principles of conduct, 
or estimates of social consequence* , it seems reasonable 
to regard the .experience which gives rise to them and the 
1 Sec pp. 176, 177. 


faculty which makes them as innate and essential parts of 
the nature of the person judging. Kant's account, which 
ascribes the origin of moral judgments, to a part of 
our natures whereby we participate in reality, makes 
admirable provision for this characteristic of directness 


Wrong Action Never an End in Itself. The theory 
derives another source of strength from the sharp distinc- 
tion which it draws between what are termed categorical 
and hypothetical imperatives. The imperatives of desire 
are, it affirms, hypothetical in the sense that they all 
depend upon an 'if'. 'Do this, 9 they say, 'if you want so 
and so/ What they do not say is, 'Do this for its own sake 
and for no other reason at all.' Yet this precisely is what, 
according to Kant, the moral imperative does say. It is a 
characteristic of moral action, in other words, that we are 
willing to regard it as an end in itself. That this distinc- 
tion between categorical and hypothetical imperatives 
does correspond to an admitted fact of experience is, I 
think, clear. Actions of the kind which are usually termed 
immoral are always prompted by some motive other than 
the motive to perform the action. They are always, in 
other words, means to an end beyond themselves. We 
tell a lie because we want to deceive somebody. We forge a 
cheque because we want to obtain money to which we are 
not lawfully entitled. We do somebody a bad turn because 
we want to pay off a grudge. But moral action serves no 
particular purpose beyond the action. While we require 
an incentive to tell a lie, we require none to tell the truth; 
it is, we fed, the normal and natural thing to do. Similarly, 
we tend to act honestly, unless we have a particular reason 
for being dishonest. We help a person who is in distress, 
unless there is some factor of personal inconvenience or 
danger to deter us. Other things being equal, in short, 
we do what we ought to do, because doing what we 
ought to do is intuitively recognized by us to be an end 
in itself. The fact that other things rarely are equal should 


not blind us to the existence of this natural tendency to 
pursue what Socrates would have called the Good. 

The truth that wrong conduct requires an incentive, 
right conduct none, illustrates and reinforces Kant's dis- 
tinction between the categorical and the hypothetical 
imperatives. The moral law, as he would say, takes no 
account of consequences; it is obeyed, when it is obeyed, 
for its own sake, whereas action prompted by desire always 
has in view the achievement of some end beyond the action. 

Criticism of Kant's Moral Theory. 
criticism of the doctrines which objective-intuitionists hold 
in common will be found in Chapter VIII. The views of 
Kant are, however, so distinctive that they are entitled to 
consideration in their own right, apart from the general 
doctrines which they exemplify. Of the many serious 
objections to which Kant's moral theory is exposed, the 
majority are in the nature of criticisms of his general 
metaphysical position, with its sharp separation between 
the world of things as they are and the world of things 
as they appear, rather than of his ethical doctrines proper. 
These it is beyond the scope of the present book to discuss, 1 
yet, since the ethical theory entails the metaphysical, they 
are in truth criticisms of the one no less than of the other. 

Other criticisms, however, apply specifically to the 
ethical doctrine. Three of these may be mentioned. 

In an earlier chapter, 1 1 urged that the problem of ethics 
is a double one; there is the problem of how to do your 
duty, and the problem of how to find out what your duty 
is. In the discussion referred to, I criticized Socrates's 
doctrine that virtue is knowledge on the ground that, 
while it made ample provision for the recognition of the 
Good, it did not deal with the problem of our frequent 
failure to pursue the Good that we recognize; that, in 

1 Some account of them will be found in my Gmd* to Philosopip, 
Chapter XIV. * 
1 Chapter II, pp. 42-46. 

2l6 * ETHICS 

wrong in themselves, irrespective either of inclination or 
consequences; that their lightness consists in their being 
prescribed to us by the moral consciousness'; and that 
the dictates of the moral consciousness are immediately 
recognizable and of binding authority. For what need, it 
may be asked, has a doctrine such as this to concern 
itself with the question whether the actions which the moral 
will prescribes can be universalized or not? The moral 
law does not need a sign, and its authority does not depend 
upon consequences. * 

And Unacceptable. 

(b) In the second place, it may be doubted whether the 
" universalization " formula is always applicable. Moral pro- 
blems are exceedingly various, and not the least difficult 
is that which presents itself in the form of a choice between 
two alternatives, to both of which Kant's universalization 
formula applies. There is, for example, the familiar problem, 
whether it is morally justifiable to tell a lie to save a life. 
Most people would say that it is; but both the two prin- 
ciples involved, "we ought to tell the truth" and "we 
ought to save life whenever we can" are universalizable. 
In fact, it was reflection upon the consideration that 
universal lying is self-contradictory in its results that, in 
the foregoing discussion, 1 suggested the conclusion that 
truth-telling was what the moral law prescribed. Thus in 
a case of this kind Kant's formula gives us no help in 
determining where our duty lies. 

And Partial in their Application. 

(c) Apart from cases of doubt, there are others in which 
the course of action to which the formula of universaliza- 
tion points would appear definitely wrong. There 
is, for example, the class of case which is covered by the 
notion erf vocation. Some people, it has been held, may 
be called upon to Jive a certain kind of life, which is un- 
suitable for others. The kind of life in question may be 

1 See above p. 208. 


morally more praiseworthy than that of ordinary men; 
yet it would not generally be maintained that the ordinary 
man is under any moral obligation to live it. An extreme 
example is afforded by the case of a celibate priesthood. 
Celibacy is enjoined upon its priesthood by one of the 
most widely adopted religions in the world; yet celibacy, 
though morally enjoined, cannot, it is obvious, be univer- 
salized, if only because t if it were, there would be nobody 
left to be celibate. Cases such as these cannot, it is clear, 
be decided by the application of general formulae however 
all-embracing the formulae are made. Each case must 
be judged on its merits, and the obligation to judge on 
merits implies the admission that in some cases judgment 
may be difficult. We reach, therefore, the same conclusion 
as before; it is not enough to will to do our duty; we 
require also to find out wherein our duty lies, and it is 
in respect of this latter requirement that Kant's theory 
affords little or no assistance. Now it is a significant fact 
that in practically every case in which we endeavour to 
judge on merits two difficult moral alternatives, our judg- 
ment is determined by an appeal to results. What, we ask 
ourselves, will be the consequences, if I perform action X, 
and what, if action Y? Yet the appeal to consequences 
is precisely what Kant's strict form of Objective-Intui- 
tionism excludes. 



Perhaps the most important objection to Kant's theory is 
the sharp distinction which it introduces between the real 
world and the world of appearance. This distinction, which 
runs right through man's nature bifurcating his personality, 
as it were, into two parts, has particularly unfortunate 
results in the sphere of ethics. The moral self, we are told, 
belongs to the real world; the everyday self that desires, 
perceives and thinks, to the familiar world, which is the 
world of things $s they appear. To the everyday self, which 
in Kant's philosophy is called the empirical or phenomenal 


self, belong our impulses and desires; to the real or moral 
self, die recognition of our duty and of the obligation to 
perform it. Our desires, in other words, tell us what we 
want to do; the will of the moral self tells what we ought 
to do. 

Now the account which Kant .gives of the everyday, 
empirical self, the self which is animated by desire, is 
purely hedonistic. He represents the individual's empirical 
self, that is to say, as motivated solely by desire for pleasure 
and aversion from pain. How, then, does the moral will 
affirm itself? It affirms itself, we are told, in opposition to 
desire, by insisting on duty as distinct from inclination. 
But since what the empirical self desires, since that to which 
inclination inclines us, is, according to Kant's account, 
pleasure, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the 
moral will chiefly affirms itself as an agency for inhibiting 
pleasure, and that its unwelcome voice chiefly makes itself 
heard in telling us hot to do what we want to do. Thus, 
without actually intending to do so, Kant reaches the 
position that we can recognize our duty by virtue of the 
fact that it is disagreeable. For, if it is agreeable, it will 
be such as we desire; it will, therefore, according to the 
general Kantian position, be the course of action prescribed 
by the empirical or everyday self, and it will not, there- 
fore, be our duty. The view that the moral will only 
prescribes what is disagreeable is conceivably true, but it 
is a gloomy view and it is pessimistic in regard to human 
nature. If we never want to do what is right, if our duty 
is always unpleasant to us, we must be very bad' indeed. 
Some theologians, unable to forget the Fall and obsessed 
by it? gloomier implications, have in fact taken this view 
of human nature. Man, they insist, is born in sin and his 
heart is "desperately wicked". Consequently, most of the 
things which he instinctively wants to do are wrong, and 
it is only by the sternest self-discipline and the grace of 
God that he can be prevented from doing them. Upon 
this theological basis there has arisen a school of forbidding 
moralists who, content to consign the great majority of 


human souls to everlasting damnation, justify their con- 
signment by refusing to call a pleasure a pleasure, if they 
can call it a sin, and then proceed to point out that most 
human beings do in fact desire pleasure. This view, which 
was popular in the last century! has lost favour in the 
present There are two comments which may appro- 
priately be made on it. 

Distressing Theological Implications of KanVs Puritanical 

View of Duty. 

First, from the point of view of theology, it is only an ex- 
treme view which would be prepared to credit human beings 
with so much natural wickedness and the Almighty with such 
equivocal intentions towards His erring creatures. It may of 
course be the case that our employment of the gift of free will 
is such that most of us deserve the eternal torment which, 
on this view, awaits us. But, if it is the case, then the 
Almighty who is omniscient must know that it is. He must 
have known, too, that it would be the case when He 
created us and endowed His creatures with -free will; 
He must have known, that is to say, that most of those 
whom He created would use His gift in such a way as 
to justify Him in consigning them to eternal torment. 
It is difficult to subscribe to the implications of this view 
of the Deity. 

A more reasonable theological view is that there are 
implanted in human beings from the first the seeds of 
good as well as of evil. How, indeed, could it be otherwise, 
since God created us? If we are by nature at least partially 
good, to act in accordance with our natural desires cannot 
always be to act otherwise than in accordance with our 
duty; to do what we want to do cannot always be tanta- 
mount to applying for a passport to hell. 

That fa Good Man's Goodness is ofUn Unthinking and 


Secpndly, from the point of view of morals, it seems difficult 
to accept the view that the good man is one whose virtue is 


always disagreeable to him. A good man is one who acts as 
he ought to do; he does his duty. Must he always dislike it? 
And if he does always dislike it, can he be really good ? These 
questions are exceedingly awkward for supporters of Kant's 
theory. Goodness cannot always be easy to us, and he who 
never experiences the temptation to do what he thinks he 
ought not to do, or, to put the point the other way round, 
never thinks that he ought not to do what he wants to do, is, 
I imagine, either more or less than a man; more, because 
to be above temptation is to participate in the Divine, 
less, inasmuch as, his moral sense being inadequately 
developed, he falls short of the full human stature. 
Animals, presumably, rarely, if ever, experience the 
conflict between duty and desire, not because they are 
without desire, but because they are without the sense 
of duty. 

But to admit that our duty must sometimes run counter 
to our inclinations, is not to say that it must always do so; 
and, in criticism of Kant's view, we are entitled to invoke 
a mass of human testimony to the effect that the good 
man is one who naturally and spontaneously does what 
he ought to do. Unselfishness, for example, is not always 
unpleasant to the "reHfih person; it is often displayed 
and* i*T>hf*gitfltJTigly by those to whom un- 

selfish actions are natural and habitual. They act un- 
selfishly, in fact, because they are unselfish persons, and, 
since unselfish action is in accordance with their natures, 
we cannot suppose it to be naturally disagreeable to them. 

The Paradox of Ethics. 

(a) THAT VIRTUE MUST BE NATURAL* Having reached 
this point in our reflections, we find ourselves in sight 
of one of the paradoxes of human conduct. The perfectly 
good man might, one -would suppose, be defined as one 
who habitually and unhesitatingly does what is right. 
For the perfectly good man is not, one would have said, 
a man who, by taking continual thought for his virtue, 
by being constantly on his guard against temptation, 


avoids doing wrong; he is rather one who, because of the 
inherent goodness ?f his nature, experiences no temptation 
to act otherwise than as the dictates of morality demand. 
He has, as Aristotle would say, 1 and as Butler agrees, 9 
a "settled habit of virtue 19 ; or, as popular usage has it, 
the habit of acting rightly is, or at any rate has become, 
second nature to him. So habitual, so almost instinctive) 
would be the virtue of such a man that he might be 
described as being almost unconscious of it. For to be 
conscious that one is virtuous, is to be complacent, and 
complacency at any rate in a mortal who, however near 
to perfection he may be, can never quite attain it, is a 
defect. It follows that the completely good man will be 
an unsclfconscious man, unselfconscious, that is to say, 
so far as his own virtue is concerned. The good man, then, 
is one who naturally, easily, habitually and unselfcon- 
sciously does what is right. So, at least, one would naturally 
have thought. 

(b) THAT VIRTUE MUST BE ACQUIRED. Yet the paradox 
of ethics consists in the fact that what one would natur- 
ally have thought, what in fact on reflection one still does 
think, is not the whole of the truth. For on reflection one 
sees that the contrary is also true. It is true, that is to say, 
that moral experience, as we understand the term, must 
involve an element of struggle. If we never felt any tempta- 
tion to do wrong, there would be little or no virtue in 
doing right. To affirm the contrary, would be to make 
the possession of moral virtue a purely natural endow- 
ment for which one could no more take credit than for the 
gift of a good eye at games; and that it is such a purely 
natural endowment is a view quite obviously at variance 
with the judgment of mankind. For the judgment of 
mankind holds that, however easily a man's goodness 
may sit upon him now, there must have been a time when 
he had to struggle to acquire it. The notion of character 
formation, in fact; implies precisely this, that a way of 
1 See Chapter IV, p. 99. s See above, p. 200. 


life which was once achieved hardly and precariously as 
the result of difficult acts of will and constant struggles 
against temptation, can become, when the character is 
formed, its natural expression. In other words, the man of 
good character does easily what, prior to the formation 
of such character, he did hardly. What is more, it was 
precisely by virtue of his doing it hardly, yet, nevertheless, 
continuing to do it, that his character came to be formed, 
and as a result he learned to do it easily. So, I think, runs 
the traditional moral teaching of mankind, a tradition 
which the following quotation from Havclock Ellis admir- 
ably enshrines: 

"We cannot have too much temptation in the world. 
Without contact with temptation virtue is worthless and 
even meaningless. To face temptation and reject it may 
be to fortify life; to face and accept temptation may be 
to enrich life. But he who cannot even face it is not fit 
to live, for temptation is an essential form of that conflict 
which is of the essence of life." 

Thus in opposition to the view that goodness is a natural 
disposition of the soul, there is a substantial weight of 
human testimony to the effect that it is something which 
must be acquired. Or rather, even if we have by nature 
what Aristotle would call a potential disposition for 
goodness, the disposition can only be actualized by moral 
experience, which must often be difficult and painful. 
In so fer as thiy disposition is not actualized, the character, 
it would be added, is not formed. It follows that, if a 
man has never felt the temptation to evil, then he may 
be accounted fortunate but not good, since his experience 
will have lacked that element of conflict and struggle, in 
the fires of which alone the steel of human character can 
be tempered. Of a divine being it might be true to say 
that he could be perfectly good without conflict or effort, m 
but to a fallible human being such effortless goodness is 
not permitted. Such, I suggest, are the deliverances of 
the popular consciousness on this issue, and it is to the 
popular consciousness that, as I have several times pointed 


out, we must in the last resort appeal, even when, 
as in the present case, its deliverances appear to be in- 

The Brave Man and the Insensitive Man. An 
example may serve to illustrate the paradox whose two 
sides I have tried to present. Courage is a virtue, and a 
brave man might be plausibly defined as one who feels no 
fear. Hence, the virtue of courage consists in not feeling 
afraid; that is the first side of the paradox. But reflection 
suggests that a being who never feels fear is lacking in 
sensibility. For example, the angry bull who, maddened by 
the darts of the picadors, violently hurls himself against any 
object in sight, is without fear, yet he does not constitute 
an obvious example of what we mean by bravery; and 
he is not, we should say, brave because, whatever his 
native sensibility may have been, it has been dulled by 
rage. For the same reason we do not accord to the man 
who performs feats of reckless courage, when doped by 
rum or inflamed by bratndy, die same meed of admiration 
as we do to the man who, justly appraising the danger 
that confronts him and feeling a natural emotion of fear 
for it is, in fact formidable and he is a sensitive man 
nevertheless coolly faces and overcomes it. Dutch courage 
in fact is inferior to courage tout court. The point of the 
example lies in the fact that, while the second man feels fear, 
the first does not; yet it is the second man who is brave. 
The moral virtue of courage does not, then, consist in 
not feeling fear, but in feeling it and overcoming it. 

As with courage, so with the other cardinal virtues. 
The performance of our duty, the resistance of temptation, 
cannot, as I have said, always be easy, even for the best 
of us. It must, indeed, often be difficult, if only because, 
if it were not difficult, the obligation which we feel to 
perform our duty would not require to call upon the 
authority of the moral will to implement it. The good 
man must, then, b& regarded as one who, fully conscious 
of the difficulty of doing right, nevertheless overcomes it 


So far Kant is right and his theory embodies an important 
truth. But to suggest, as Kant docs, that our duty must 
always be disagreeable, and disagreeable just because it 
is opposed to desire is to travesty the truth. The good man 
must sometimes want to do what is right, and, die better 
his character, the more frequently will desire and duty 
coincide. But such coincidence must I am here again 
interpreting what I take to be the testimony of the popular 
consciousness be the experience of a formed character. 
It must, that is to say, be the fruit of successful struggle 
in the past and not of the natural endowment which 
a man: receives at birth, as he receives .a good circu- 
lation or a good eye at games. If such natural endowments 
do exist, then they are emphatically not what we mean, 
or at any rate not all that we mean, by moral virtue. 

Recapitulation. In this chapter I have given some 
account of that type of ethical theory which is known as 
Objective-Intuitionism. Objcctive-Intuitionism maintains 
that the characteristics of bring right and being wrong are 
the intrinsic properties of actions, are, that is to say, 
possessed by them in their own right independently of 
the consequences of the actions. From this conception of 
a right action the theory proceeds to a conception of moral 
worth, defining the morally good individual as he who 
habitually discerns those actions which have the property 
of being right and habitually performs them. It is entailed, 
therefore, that we possess a faculty by means of which we 
discern those actions which have the property of being 
right. But the moral faculty is not, on this view, a purely 
cognitive one; it is not enough to discern what is right; 
it is also necessary to do it. The moral faculty appears, 
therefore, both in Butler and in Kant as one of authority 
as well as of discernment; it is will as well as insight. 

After a brief glance at the English intuitionists, who 
fought to demonstrate the existence of such a faculty, 
I gave some account of the philosophy of Bishop Butler 
according to which conscience, the sense of right and wrong, 


is in an ideally good man set over all the other faculties. 
Our sense of duty is, in other words, or rather, in the ideally 
good man it should be, in authority over both self-interest 
and desire. I then outlined the moral theory of Kant, 
according to which the authority with which the feeling 
of moral obligation makes itself felt is derived from the 
world of reality, distinguished from that of appearance. 
Kant may be classed as an objective-intuitionist in virtue of 
his teaching that the moral law prescribes the performance 
of certain actions irrespective of consequences or desires, 
these actions having the property of being such as we 
ought to perform* 

Finally, I ventured to criticize this specifically Kantian 
conception on the ground that the view that what we 
ought to do as something which distinguishes itself mainly, 
if not solely, in opposition to what we want to do, is at 
variance with the deliverances of the moral consciousness 
of Tflfrnkind. 


BUTLBR, JOSEPH. Sermons; Dissertation on Virtue. (Both in 
Butler's Analogy and Sermons, Bonn's Library). 

KANT, IIOCAHUEL. Foundation for a Metaphysic of Mbrab. 
The text of Kant is very difficult and the student will be well 

advised to read Kant in the form of extracts. Selection* from 

Kant, translated by John Watson, pages 295-302, is recommended. 

BROAD, C. D. Five Types of Ethical Theory, Chapters III and V. 

SELBY BIGOE, L. British Moralists. Contains an account of the 

English Intiritioniiti referred to at the beginning of the chapter. 

MABTXNEAU, JAMSS. Types of Ethical Theory, represent! a some* 
what extreme intuitionist point of view. 

FIELD, G. C. Moral Theory. 


Thit Ethics Trnplict Freedom of Choice. A discussion 
of die problem of free will is introduced at this stage 
for two reasons. First, unless the will is in some sense 
free, ethics, as a separate branch of philosophical study, 
must be dismissed. Secondly, the problem is, as I hope 
to show, intimately bound up with the question of the 
nature of the moral faculty; for it is only if it is with 
a faculty that is reason, or is at least rational, that we will 
morally and judge morally that, most philosophers are 
agreed, the moral will and the moral judgment can 
be held to be free. 

The first of these contentions, that the freedom of the 
will is indispensable to ethics, has been widely denied. 
Canon Rashdall, for example, whose book, The Ttuory 
of Good and Evil, is one of the best-known works on ethics 
written during the present century, was an avowed 
detenninist, who was nevertheless an objective-intuitionist. 
He held, that is to say, as a matter of theory, that actions 
and characters possessed the characteristic of goodness 
in their own right, and that this characteristic is unique 
in the sense that it cannot be resolved into any other 
characteristic; he also held that we ought, as a matter of 
practice, to try to achieve a good character and to 
perform good actions. Again, modern rationalists insist 
upon die practical importance of morality, although in 
theory they subscribe, to the iron determinism entailed 
by the metaphysical philosophy of mechanism which, 
conceiving of the universe after the model of a gigantic 
dock, regards every event as completely determined by 
a preceding event. Moreover, so far as conduct is concerned, 
it cannot be denied that determinists have led good lives 


least they are not notably inferior to those of non* 
determinists: indeed, it is open to question whether the 
belief that one's acts are determined makes any difference 
at all to one's conduct 

In spite of these considerations, it is plain, at least to 
the present writer, that the validity of ethics is incom- 
patible with the denial of free will in any of the senses 
in which that term is ordinarily used, and that, conversely, 
Kant is right in saying that "ought" implies "can". 

If determinism is a fact, we are not responsible for our 
actions. Hence reproof is as impertinent as praise is 
irrational: nor does it alter the case that the reproving 
and the praising are beyond the control of the reprover 
and the pxaiser. Now ethics is a structure which is built 
on the twin pillars of praise and blame. If you cannot 
judge in regard to a man that he ought to do action X, 
and approve him for doing, blame him for not doing it, 
then there is no ethical judgment which you can vaiidly 
pass. Yet if he can only perform action Y, it is surely 
nonsense to say that he ought to have performed action 
X, just as it would be nonsense to say of a stone that fell 
from the top of a cliff on to the beach below, that it ought 
to have fallen upwards into the iky. If, then, there is no 
power of choice, ethics is meaningless. In order that 
ethics may have meaning, we must at least be free to 
choose that which appears to us to be good, even if we 
are not free in any other way, nor do I think that many 
philosophers would dissent from this view* 

As regards my second contention, many philosophers 
have held that reason can neither determine choice nor 
motivate action. I shall try to show that, if they are right 
in holding this view, die task of maintaining free will, 
in any event a difficult one, becomes impossible. 


Hie task is, I rfcpeat in any event a difficult one and, the 
more closely one looks into the question, the more difficult 


it appeari; for, directly one begins to reflect upon the 
problem of freedom, almost all the considerations that 
occur to one seem to tell against it All the obvious argu- 
ments in the freewill-determinism controversy are on 
the side of the determinist In this sense it may be said 
that free will is something that will not bear thinking 
about, since directly you start to think about it, you find 
that it disappears. The arguments against it may be 
divided into three main groups. 

(z) Cosmic Arguments for Determinism* There is, 
first, a group of arguments which seek to establish the 
general proposition that every event must have a deter- 
mining cause. These arguments are in essence metaphysical . 
They "%a^t a Tn that an uncaused event of any kind is 
unthinkable. Acts of will are events; therefore they must 
have been caused; therefore they cannot be other than 
they are, their causes being what they are; therefore they 
are not free. This view is generally put forward as both an 
integral part and a necessary corollary of a mechanist- 
materialist theory of the universe. Nfechanism asserts that 
the universe works after the manner of a vast machine; 
Materialism, that whatever exists, is of the same nature as 
a piece of matter. If all other events in the universe were 
like mechanical events, it would be very odd indeed, if 
one kind of event and one only, namely, the event which 
is an act of the human will, were an exception, since there 
would then be two orders of events in die universe, the 
order of caused and the order of uncaused events, the latter 
order being confined to acts of die human will. Since an 
event of the latter order might at any moment interfere 
with one belonging to die former order, that is, with the 
order of caused events, the order of nature which science 
investigates, is liable at any moment to be upset by an 
event from outside die boundaries of the scientific scheme 
of which science can give absolutely no account Such 
a suggestion is intolerable to the scientist, since it implies 
that his whole endeavour, which is to discover the laws 


that govern phenomena, in terms of which he may be 
able to calculate and predict future events, cannot possibly 
succeed. Yet it is in precisely this endeavour that science 
has already achieved considerable success. It is not, 
therefore, a matter for surprisfc that scientists should be 
instinctive detenninists, and, should refuse to admit the 
possibility that what they Would regard as arbitrary and 
capricious acts of will can interfere with the order of 
nature. The conclusion is that acts of will must themselves 
be events which fall within the order of nature. There- 
fore, like all other such events, they are caused events. 

(2) Arguments from the Relation Between Mind and 
Body. Materialism, which asserts that everything which 
exists is of the same nature as matter, entails a particular 
view of what k called the Mind-Body problem. 1 The body 
is admittedly a piece of matter, and, as such, it obeys the 
laws which govern the movements of pieces of matter, 
that is to say, the laws of mechanics and dynamics. By 
means of these laws, the movements of material bodies 
can be predicted. This power of prediction applies to 
some at least of the movements of my body. If, for example, 
my body and a wax effigy of my body, suitably weighted, 
were dropped over a precipice, each would reach the 
bottom at the same time and behave in much the same 
way when they hit the ground. 

Where, then, it may be asked, and how does the mind 
come in? Either the mind interacts with the body, or it 
does not. If it interacts, then events in the body will 
produce effects upon the mind, and events in the mind, 
or at least some of them, will be the results of these effects. 
This, as we know, frequently happens: for example, if a 
pin is pushed into my skin, I shall feel pain; if adrenalin 
is injected, I shall fed afraid; if I fail to digest my food, 
I shall fed depressed. In respect then, of these feelings, 
which are events in my mind, I am not free, not free, 

* For an enlairahent of the iummmry account of thii problem in 
the text see my Guidt to PMfapb, Chapter XVIII, pp. 49&~5*i* 


that ii to say, not to have them, lincc they are die effects 
of occurrence! in my body. If, however, the body does 
not interact with die mind, then it it difficult to explain 
the apparent parallelism between the two, a parallelism 
which is illustrated at alnfixt every moment of our waking 
life* For example, when I feel hungry and see food, my 
salivary glands secrete fluid, and when the food is put 
before me my hands make the necessary movements to 
convey it into a hole which opens in the bottom of my 
face. It is difficult to account for this synchronisation 
between mental desire and bodily movements, unless we 
assume that the mind and body interact. But how, it may 
be asked, can that which is material interact with, and 
produce effects upon, that which is not? How, for example, 
can a sledge-hammer break * wish, or a steam roller 
flatten the inspiration which produced Beethoven's Fifth 
Symphony? Or 'how, to take an instance which is relevant 
to our present discussion, can the secretion of adrenalin 
by a gland cause me to feel afraid, if my feeling of fear is 
an exclusively non-material event? Things, it may be said, 
can only "get at" one another in virtue of their possession 
of certain properties in common, but between a material 
and an immaterial entity there are no properties in 
common. Therefore they cannot interact with each other. 
Yet, as we have seen, mind and body do palpably interact. 
The mind then, it is argued, cannot be wholly other than 
the body. It too must be material, or must be at least 
an emanation from or a function of that which is material, 
namely, of those occurrencies which take place in the body. 
Now these, as we have seen, are caused events, each of 
which is the effect of a preceding bodily event, the first 
bodily event in this chain of earned bodily events being 
the determined effect of an external stimulus to which the 
body is exposed and to which it reacts. What are called 
mental events are, the materialist argues, links in the same 
chain of caused events, and are dependent upon the 
movements in the nerves and the brain which cause them 
to happen. Acts of will are mental events: therefore acti of 


will are not free. If we knew enough about the machinery 
of the brain and could observe its workings through a 
sufficiently powerful microscope, we should see minute 
changet in its cells whenever we experienced the sensa- 
tion of willing something. These changes would be the 
causes of the sensation of willing. 

(3) Psychological ftiufl Physiological Determinism. 
A distinguishing characteristic of the forms of determinism 
just considered is that they regard man as a member of a 
world order which extends beyond him. This world order 
is physical, and the events in it are determined in accord- 
ance with the laws of cause and effect. On this view, human 
choice is, in the last resort, an event not different from other 
natural events. Therefore it is functionally dependent upon 
the nature of the world order in which it occurs. Man's 
will, in short, is determined by events outside himself and 
other than 

Another and not less formidable form of determinism 
is that which represents man's will as determined by events 
within himself. This form of determinism is not perhaps, 
in the last resort, different from those already considered, 
since in representing our choices as made for us by 
the accumulated influence of all the forces and factors of 
our natures, it would not wish to suggest that these forces 
and factors were causeless and purely arbitrary facts. Thr 
forces and factors of our natures must, it would be said, 
spring from something; and, in point of fact, our natures, 
temperaments and dispositions are represented by those 
who are in general disposed to adopt what I have elsewhere 
called explanations in terms of origins, * as being conditioned 
by the nature of the origins from which .they sprang. 
Although, however, the two forms of determinism, that 
which holds that our actions are determined by events 
outside ourselves, and that which holds that they are deter- 
mined by forces and factors within ourselves, may not, in 
the last resort, b$ distinguishable, their immediate bearing 
1 See Chapter I, p. 39. 


upon die free will problem k very different Now the effect 
of the form of detenninism at present being considered is 
to represent human acts of will as determined by the 
characters and temperaments of the human beings whose 
acts they are. Our willing* are, on this view, the natural 
products of our inherited psychological and physiological 
constitutions* - 

Let us suppose that on a particular occasion I judge 
that so-and-so is the right thing to do. The view which we 
are considering asserts that my judgment is the necessary 
consequence of earlier acts and events that have made me 
what I am. It is not the workings of a cosmic machine 
by which, on this view, I am bound; I am fettered by the 
influence of die past, nor is the constriction of my fetters 
the less absolute because the past is my own. 

The arguments for this view are not essentially different 
from those which 1 briefly surveyed in the last chapter to 
illustrate Kant's treatment of man from the point of view 
of the special sciences. 1 But there is this important difference 
that, whereas Kant exempted the moral will from the scope 
of die operation of these arguments, they are for the 
detenninist all-embracing. 

That Human Nature is Biologically and Anthropologic- 
ally Determined* Think of man, says the detenninist, 
biologically: you will see him as a member of a species, 
acting and feeling and desiring in ways appropriate to 
the nature of that species. Think of him again anthro- 
pologically: you will see him as a member of a culture, 
the inheritor of a tradition, the child of an age, acknowledg- 
ing the standards of valuation appropriate to his culture, 
die codes of conduct and forms of belief enjoined by his 
tradition, and die world-view common to his age. Plato 
was right to point out that the ordinary man cannot make 
his morals, his religion or his politics for himself; he can 
only take diem ready-made from his environment. Thus 
his views on morality or his beliefs about the nature and 
1 Sec Chapter VI, pp. 803, 904. 


purpose of the univcnc are determined not by him but 
for him, by considerations over which he hat no control. 
His sexual morality, for example, is largely determined by 
considerations of topography . Thus if he is born in a bed- 
room in Balham, he will think it right to have one wife and 
condemn sexual intercourse outside the marriage tie; if he 
is born in a bedroom in Baghdad, he will think it right 
to have four wives, provided that he can afford their 
upkeep, and see nothing to censure in concubinage* 

That Human Nature is Physiologically Determined. 
Or consider him*, again, from the point of view of physio* 
logy. A man's nature is, it is obvious, largely the product 
of his bodily constitution. An invalid, for example, has 
a different mentality from a healthy man; a hunchback 
from a straight man. It is only to-day that we are 
beginning to realise the extent to which character is 
dependent upon the secretions of the ductless glands. An 
inefficiency of thyroid produces a half-wit, and an excess 
of adrenalin a coward. Even the moral sense is apparently 
dependent, at least in part, upon the constitution of the 
blood stream. For example, one of the most disturbing 
after-effects of sleepy sickness is an outbreak of klepto- 
mania, and ladies of hitherto irreproachable moral charac- 
ter are assailed by irresistible temptations to abstract 
articles from shop counters. 

These observations are of a general character and are 
such as will occur to any educated person not possessed 
of special technical knowledge. The more closely, however, 
the relation between the mind and the body is investigated, 
the more absolute does the dependence of the former 
on the latter appear to be. 

The Evidence from Genetics. Consider, for example, 
the light which is thrown upon the question by the recently 
established science of genetics. The necessity for some form 
of determinism being taken for granted by both sets of 
disputants, die question was at one time much debated 


whether a man's character was the result of his heredity 
or his environment Both factors, it was agreed, played 
their part, but controversy turned upon the precise amount 
of weight which should be attached to each of them. It 
now appears that the distinction between inherited and 
environmental factors is neither clear-cut nor absolute. 

Biologists seem to be in general agreement that the sub- 
stances passed from parents to offspring, which constitute 
the individual's initial physiological inheritance, are 
numbers of separate packets of diverse chemicals embedded 
in a less diversified mass of material. These packets of 
rh^rypfftlffj the genes, are strung like beads along the line 
of the chromosomes. The chromosomes exist in pairs, so 
that for each packet on one chromosome there is a corres- 
ponding packet on another. When the organism becomes 
a parent, it distributes to its offspring one packet only 
from each of its pairs, the corresponding second packet 
of the pair being supplied by the other parent. 

The genes, therefore, constitute the raw material of 
inheritance. Nor is this inheritance confined to bodily 
characteristics. There are gene combinations for bad 
temper and sadism, just as there are gene combinations 
for red hair and pink eyes, or, in theory, there ought to 
be. But whether in any individual a particular combina- 
tion will or will not become operative, depends upon his 
environment, the environment being taken to include not 
only the external circumstances of die organism, but also 
the constitution of and conditions prevailing in the rest 
of die body. It is not true that because one inherits certain 
characteristics one will exhibit them. What is true, is that 
one inherits an immense number of potential innate 
characteristics; which of them one will in fact display 
depends upon the environment in which one is placed. 
Hence, the characteristics that appear under training are 
as much inherited as those that appear at birth; the only 
difference is that the former set require the application 
of certain conditions over a period of time to bring them 
out The distinction between heredity and environment, 


between innate characteristics and acquired is, therefore, 
a false one. Strictly what one inherits are not character* 
istics at all, but certain material which, given certain 
conditions! will produce certain characteristics. 

The scheme, it is obvious> is a purely deterministic one. 
It is not deterministic in the sense that what the indi- 
vidual will become is preordained by die supply of genes 
which he gets from his parents; it is deterministic in the 
sense that what he will become is the result of a complex 
constituted by this initial supply and the environment in 
which he develops, for neither of which can he be considered 

The Case of Identical Twins. Thus the character- 
istics of the organism are, on this view, determined by the 
germinal material which he inherits, the nature of this 
material being in its turn determined by the characteristics 
of the parents. The characteristics of the parents are derived 
from those of the species to which they belong, and those 
of the species to which they belong are in the last resort 
determined by the influence of the external physical 
environment on the species. And if it be objected that 
mental events lie outside the confines of this scheme, and 
that nobody has yet been able to locate the inspiration of 
a poet in a chromosome, those who advocate deter- 
ministic views might concede that this may be so. ' One's 
view on this question depends', they would say, 'upon 
the attitude one takes to Materialism in general and to 
the Mind-Body problem in particular. We cannot as yet 
prow that mind is only a function or a by-product of the 
body. 9 Nevertheless, although absolute proof is agreed to 
be lacking, they would point to the impressive weight of 
evidence in favour of the view that mental no less than 
bodily characteristics are determined by genetical constitu- 
tion. Evidence of a very striking kind pointing to this con* 
elusion has recently been afforded by some investigations 
into the characters of identical twins. Some years ago 
Professor Lange, with the help of the Bavarian Ministry 

2<j6 ETHICS 

of Justice, investigated every available case in which a 
person who had come into contact with the police was a 
member of a pair of living twins of the same sex. His otyect 
was to discover whether the other member of the pair of 
twins had a criminal record; whether, in fact, the likeli* 
hood of criminality in one member of a pair of twins was 
greater, if criminality existed in the other. So far as ordinary 
twins were concerned, the additional likelihood appeared 
to be very small. In the case of fifteen criminals! each of 
whom was a member of an ordinary pair of twins, it was 
found that one brother only was also a criminal. There 
were two doubtful cases. Thus we may say that in die 
case of ordinary twins criminality was evinced by both 
members of the pair in the proportion of roughly two 
out of seventeen. This proportion is, of course, 

higher than the incidence of criminality in the population 
as a whole, but the excess may readily be accounted fir 
by environmental factors. In the case of pairs of identical 
twins, however, the position was very different. Thirteen 
pairs were investigated, one member of each of which was a 
criminal, and in ten cases the other member of the pair 
was also found to be a criminal. What is more, there was 
a marked similarity between the crimes of which criminal 
pairs of twins were convicted. There was one pair of 
habitual burglars, one pair was found guilty of petty 
theft, and two pairs were swindlers; another pair were guilty 
of the same type of sexual abnormality, and so on. Thus 
in the case of identical twins genctical constitution appar- 
ently determined closely similar behaviour in ten cases 
out of thirteen. Nor can thi closely similar behaviour 
be ascribed solely to die influence of environment. One 
pair of identical twins who, as adults, were guilty of the 
same crime, had been separated at eight years of age, 
while another pair who were separated rather later left 
their jobs at die same moment when over a thousand 
miles apart. 

The evidence in these cases it highly suggestive, though, 
not, of course, conclusive. What it suggests is that not 


only our bodily, but our moral characteristics are largely, 
if not wholly, determined by our initial bodily inherit* 
ance. Nor is the suggestion confined to moral charac- 
teristics. Researches into the intellectual capacities of 
identical twins, recently conducted in America, show 
striking similarities in the matter of intellectual attain- 
ment; similar weaknesses and proficiencies were evinced 
in the same subjects, and closely similar marks obtained in 
examinations. While the evidence of similarity in the case 
of intellectual characteristics is less striking than the 
evidence relating to moral character, it tends to bear out 
the determinist's contention that, the more we study a 
man's bodily constitution and initial genetical equipment, 
the more convincingly does his character appear as a 
function of his constitution and equipment The im- 
plication is, of course, that a complete knowledge of 
genetics and physiology would show the dependence 
to be absolute. 

That Human Nature is Psychologically Determined* 
Not less formidable than the physiological are the psycho- 
logical arguments for determinism. The outlines of the 
case for psychological determinism have already been 
indicated in Chapter IV in illustration and development 
of Aristotle's doctrine of Self-Determinism. 1 Reflecting 
upon the conclusions of psychology and psycho-analysis, 
we cannot but admit that the evidence which .these sciences 
have accumulated has greatly strengthened the self- 
determinist's case. Modern psychology represents the most 
lately evolved faculties of human nature, such as the will, 
the reason, and the conscience, as determined by non- 
rational forces which 'lie, for the most part, below the 
threshold of consciousness, whose genesis we do not know 
and whose effect upon consciousness we cannot calculate. 
This doctrine in its most extreme form appears in the 
teachings of psycho-analysis, which insist that the main- 
springs of our nature lie outside the realm of consciousness, 
1 See Chapter IV, pp. 111-113. 


the events of which we are normally conscious being 
represented as the sublimated or distorted versions of 
unconscious urges and stresses. The unconscious is pictured 
as a restless sea of instinct and impulse, agitated by gusts 
of libido, swept by the waves of desire, and threaded by 
the currents of urge and drive. Upon these waves and cur- 
rents consciousness, with all that it contains, bobs helplessly 
like a corky the movements of the cork being determined by 
the nature and direction of the ground swells below the 

The familiar argument from origins is used to reinforce 
the conclusion that the fundamental forces of human 
nature are not rational and moral, but instinctive and 
impulsive. The animal origin of man and the fact that his 
roots are deep down in nature are emphasised; the infer- 
ence is that fundamentally he is still swayed by the same 
land of natural forces as those which dominate the behaviour 
of animals. Of these natural forces we know very little, 
especially since we have succeeded in evolving reason, one 
of whose main functions is to rationalise them, and so to 
disguise from us their real character. But reason is itself 
an expression of these instinctive natural forces, one of the 
latest and weakest It is a feeble shoot springing from a 
deep, dim foundation of unconscious strivings, and main- 
taining a precarious existence as their apologist and their 

Nor is it only psycho-analysis which sponsors this atti- 
tude to the more lately evolved human faculties. Much 
modern psychology lends support to the conclusion that 
human nature is fundamentally non-rational in character. 
I have already quoted a passage from Professor McDougalPs 
account of instinct 1 which represents instinct as the driving 
force of all the activities of human nature, including the 
activity of reason, and shown how, on this view, such 
faculties as reason and will come to be regarded as the 
tools by means of which the fundamental urges or drives 
of human nature obtain their natural satisfaction. 
"See Chapter IV, p. 115. 


Bearing of the Psychological Analysis upon Concepts of 
Will and Reason. What, it may be asked, is the 
bearing of theie conclusions upon the question with which 
we are immediately concerned the question of the free- 
dom of the human will and, we may add, of the human 
reason? I include reason as well as will since, if there is 
to be freedom of choice two conditions at least must be 
satisfied; there must be not only a will which can freely 
choose between two courses of action that which appears 
to be the better, but a reason which can impartially 
estimate and freely decide between the relative worths of 
the two different courses under choice. 

Both these requisites of freedom are denied by the psycho- 
logical analysis I have described. Its effect upon die will 
has already been indicated in a previous chapter; 1 will, 
if the psycho-analytic account can be accepted, is a subli- 
mated form of desire, for the working of which we are 
no more responsible than for the promptings of desire 

The effect upon reason is, from the point of view of 
freedom, no less detrimental. Reason tends to be exhibited 
as a mere tool or handmaid of desire. Its function is to 
secure the ends which we unconsciously set ourselves, by 
inventing excuses for what we instinctively want to do, 
and arguments for what we instinctively want to believe. 
There is, in fact, at bottom very little difference between 
reason and faith; for, if faith be defined as the power of 
believing what we know to be untrue, reason is the power 
of deceiving ourselves into believing that what we want 
to think true, is in fact true. 

Reasoning fln^l Ratioittlfafag- We are accustomed to 
make a distinction between reasoning and rationalizing. 
Reasoning, we hold, is an honest, rationalizing a dis- 
honest use of reason. A person who reasons uses his mind 
to take impartial stock of the evidence, and permits his 
conclusions to he determined by what he finds; he does 
*See Chapter IV, pp. 114-116. 

240 BTfilCl 

not, that it to say, in so fiur as he is reasonable, allow the 
operations of his reason to be Massed by his wishes or dic- 
tated by his hopes. A person who rationalizes uses his 
reason to arrive only at those conclusions which he con- 
sciously or unconsciously desires. Paying attention to those 
facts which support the desired conclusion, he ignores 
all others. If supporting facts are wanting, he imagines 
them. It is rationalising when the smoker persuades him- 
self that tobacco ash is good for the carpet, the fisherman 
that fish being cold-blooded creatures do not mind their 
throats bring torn out by a hook, and the British patriot 
that between 1914 and 1918 it was right to kill Germans 
because of the violation of Belgium. Thus, while the 
conclusions of reasoning are determined by circumstances 
external to and independent of the reason that investi- 
gates them, those of rationalizing are determined by per- 
sonal hopes and fears. It is on these lines that, I think, 
most people would be disposed to distinguish between 
reasoning and rationalizing. 

Now this distinction cannot, if the conclusions of psycho- 
analysis are correct, be upheld. For the distinction between 
reasoning and rationalizing is, it might be said, itself a 
product of rationalizing, the offspring of our desire to think 
that our reasons are or can be free. If reason is called into 
action by instinct, it must needs arrive at those conclu- 
sions which instinct demands. If reason is the handmaid 
of desire, reason must dance to the tune which desire 
pipes for her. Reason, in fact, is never free, but is suborned 
from the first. The views which we hold are not the result 
of an impartial survey of the evidence, but are the reflec- 
tions of the fundamental desires and tendencies of our 
natures. Our beliefs are based upon instinct, but we 
have also, as F. H. Bradley '(1846-1924) pointed out, an 
instinct to use our reasons to discover arguments in sup- 
port of our beliefs. But these reasons, if psycho-analysis is 
correct, have no objective validity; they do not point to 
and correctly report some factor in the nature of things; 
they reflect instinctive needs of human nature for whose 


thwarting we demand compensation, or instinctive inferior- 
itiei and deficiencies, our realization of which leads us to 
demand TTfltiiirflnrf*. 

If this view of reason is right, the belief in the freedom of 
the will must be abandoned. For, if the faculty which is 
involved in moral judgment and choice is fundamentally 
non-rational, then it is not freely exercised; if feeling 
alone can motivate to action, then action is never freely 
chosen; if the conclusions of the reason never afford a 
sufficient ground for conduct, then conduct is always 
determined by non-rational factors. 

Self-Determinism Latent in Many Philosophies. 
Now many philosophers have adopted views which entail 
that the forces which motivate human beings to action 
are non-rational, even when they have repudiated the 
determinist implications which, if I am right, follow from 
these views. Aristotle, for example, as I mentioned in an 
earlier chapter, 1 announces that thought itself cannot 
motivate movement, and, although he goes on to qualify 
the statement and suggests that what he calls practical 
thought, practical, that is, as opposed to theoretical or 
speculative thought, may motivate to action, his doctrine 
of the will certainly lends itself to the view that it is not 
reason but desire that determines our actions. 1 Philoso- 
phers have used ambiguous phrases such as " rational 
desire" to suggest that, when we will to act in a certain way, 
or endeavour to obtain certain ends, the elements in our 
nature engaged in mqlnng the choice or pursuing the 
endeavour are not necessarily irrational, even though they 
are essentially emotional or desiring dements. The only 
meaning that it is possible to extract from such phrases is 
that, while the emotional or desiring parts of our nature 
determine our actions, they may on occasion operate in 
accordance with the dictates of reason, and so deserve the 
title of rational. The philosopher, T. H. Gfeen (1836- 
1882), for example, speaks of our desiring or appetitive 
1 Scc Chapter IV, p. no. 'See Chapter IV, pp. us, 113. 

nature as iupplying us with various "solicitations" to 
action. He holds that from these "reason " selects, or should 
select, that particular one with which the man who is 
entitled to be regarded as acting rationally and volun- 
tarily will "identify himself". But that we have responsi- 
bility for our desires, that, to use Green's own language, 
the "solicitations" from which "reason selects", .are in 
any sense such as we voluntarily provide for ourselves and 
not such as are provided for us by a given condition of 
ourselves, Green nowhere suggests. Again, William James 
(1842 1910), speaks of what he calls our "passional 
nature", supplying the determining factor in all choice. 
What in fact chooses is, he suggests, not an intellectual 
or rational faculty, but a passional and non-rational 
faculty. Since choosing is a preliminary to all so-called 
voluntary actions, it follows that thought never motivates 
to action. 

That what does motivate to action is something which is 
not properly entitled to be called thought, is a premise, 
whether implicit or explicit, which underlies the treatment 
of the subject by almost all modern philosophers. More 
logically than Green, more explicitly than James, Thomas 
Hobbes (15881679) states the doctrine of the non- 
rationality of choice. Deliberation, he holds, is a mere 
seesaw of conflicting appetites; one pulls us this way, 
another that There is an appetite for X, and an appetite 
to restrain the appetite for X, for reasons of prudence, or 
of reputation, or of what die agent conceives to be morality. 
Whatever the object of the restraining appetite may be, 
it is no less "desirefiil", no more rational, than the appetite 
which it seeks to restrain. What is called the will is merely 
"the last appetite in deliberation", "In 'deliberation'," 
Hobbes writes, "the last appetite, or aversion, immediately 
adhering to the action, or to the omission thereof, is what 
we call the 'will'." The will is thus, for Hobbes, the final 
weight whicfc inclines the scales of action, but its substance 
is not ewentially different from that of the other weights. 
This conclusion of Hobbes's, and the steps by which it 


is reached, axe strongly reminiscent of the attitude to the 
will which characterizes the writings of psycho-analysts. 1 

Bearing of Foregoing on the Freedom of the Moral 
Judgment and the Moral Will. The effect of all these 
views is broadly the same. All concur in holding that 
my personal judgment that this thing or that is the right 
thing to do is the necessary consequence of past acts and 
past events. These past acts and past events have, between 
them, formed my present psychological disposition as 
completely as the taste of a stew is formed by the various 
elements which have gone to its making. If, then, I now 
judge X to be good, or to be seemly, or fitting, or the right 
thing to do, it is not because I have made an impartial 
and disinterested choice between X and the alternative 
courses which are open to me, but because I have judged 
Xi, Xa, and so on to be good, or to be the right things to 
do in the past. To quote Professor A. E. Taylor, my act 
of choice is, on these views, " no more the expression of a 
dutiful spirit than the utterances of a man 'possessed 1 
are the expressions of his own thought". "Hopeless slavery 
to the past," Professor Taylor continues, "docs not cease 
to be slavery because the past is to some extent of my 
own making." For what, after all, do these views imply? 
That the way in which I act always exhibits conformity 
to a certain rule. This rule is the rule of my own character, 
a character which has been built up as the result of the 
reaction of the initial psychological equipment which con* 
stituted my personality at birth to the environments in 
which it has successively been placed. Admittedly, the 
rule is not completely known either by me or by anybody 
else; admittedly, the elements which have gone to its 
making are exceedingly complex. Nevertheless, it exists, 
and my actions illustrate it, just as the behaviour of chemicals 
in compounds and solutions illustrates the rule of their 
composition. To quote Professor Taylor again, the self- 
deterministic views which I have been engaged in summaris- 
*Sce Chapter IV, pp. 114-116. 


ing imply that "there is a formula which adequately 
describe* my own personal moral character, and that 
knowledge of this formula would make it possible to calcu- 
late the line of action I shall take in a difficult situation, 
exactly as the astronomer calculates an eclipse or a transit 
of Venus". The feet that successful calculation of 'conduct 
is rarely possible in practice only, on this view, illustrates 
the complexity of the elements which make up character. 
It does not mean that character and the conduct which 
springs from it are not in- theory calculable and, if calculable, 
therefore determined. 

Summary of Implications of Sclf-Dcte 

I have put this view, the view that we are determined by 
our own pasts, in the most cogent form in which it is 
capable of bong stated. This is the form which insists that 
both when we choose and when we act the motivating 
faculty is non-rational, and this view, I am suggesting, 
almost inevitably entails some kind of Self-determinism. 
It is, however, also possible to state the sclf-determinist 
view in such a way, that, while admitting that it may be 
reason which chooses, while conceding that reason can 
even motivate to action, it still implies that in so 
choosing and motivating reason is not free. This form of 
the self-determinist view may be stated as follows: freedom 
of die will does not, it is clear, mean mere motiveless 
caprice; there must be some reason why we choose as 
we do, even if our choices are free. Now if it is in feet reason 
which chooses, reason must choose with a motive. Let us 
suppose that there are various alternative motives between 
which reason deliberates, that it ultimately selects one 
of them, and that the agent acts in accordance with the 
choice made. Why does it choose this one? Because it 
appears to it to be the weightiest motive in the field. Why 
does it so appear? Because the reasoq is so constituted that 
it cannot help but so regard it Why is the reason so con- 
stituted? Because of die past history of the penon reason- 
ing and of his initial cast of mind. Once this answer is 


given) all the factors at which we have already glanced, 
inherited constitution) psychological disposition, training, 
environment, and the rest) may be introduced in order to 
explain why it is that our reasons work in the way and 
reach the conclusions they do, and why, because they do 
work in this way and reach these conclusions) certain 
motives cannot help but appear to them the weightiest 
for the determination of action. Thus although the case 
for Self-determinism can be argued most persuasively on 
the assumption that non-rational factors govern choice, 
it need not necessarily reject the view that it is our reason 
which chooses and determines our actions. 

A* Criticism of Dctenninist Arguments 

I mentioned at the outset that what might be called the 
short-term arguments in the controversy between fixe 
will and determinism are all on the side of determinism, 
nor are those which I have examined refutable by logic. 
In so far as a case can be made for free will, it will be 
found to depend very largely upon certain metaphysical 
considerations. It will, that is to say, presuppose the 
acceptance of certain views of the nature of the universe 
as a whole and of the status and function of human con- 
sciousness within the universe. The adequate discussion 
of these views falls outside the scope of this book. 

(i) Criticism of the Cosmic Arguments for Determinism. 
It is, however, relevant to point out that the cosmic 
arguments for determinism presuppose) no less than the 
arguments for free-will, a particular metaphysical view. 
This is the view that nature works like a vast machine) 
and that human nature is merely one particular cog in 
the machine, This view is one which most philosophers 
reject. The universe, as many have thought) may be ideal; 
it may, that is to say, be in its essential nature akin to 


a mind rather than to a machine, or it may be a colony 
of souls, or it may be an actively developing spirit, a unity 
of thought, or a flux of time. 1 If any of these metaphysical 
views of the nature of the universe is true, or even approxi- 
mates to the truth, the commonsense conception of the 
world as consisting of solid objects extended in space 
separate from but interacting with one other must be false. 
The universe, again, may be fundamentally duatistic; 
it may, that is to say, be partly physical and partly spiritual 
or mental. The physical part is, the dualist would affirm, 
the order of nature which scientists study, while, of the 
spiritual or mental part we have experience in our own 
consciousness. It is admittedly exceedingly difficult to see 
how the mental or spiritual element can interact with or 
produce efiects upon the physical, but this difficulty, he 
would insist, gives us no right to reject the dualist hypo- 
thesis out of hand. If the dualist hypothesis is correct, 
then mind or consciousness is outside that natural order of 
events in which mechanistic science proclaims determinism 
to reign supreme, and no arguments which purport to 
establish the mechanistic nature of the physical universe 
will touch the freedom of the mind. 

Let us, however, suppose that we provisionally accept 
the mechanistic scheme in its entirety and bring every- 
thing, including the operations of mind, within its frame- 
work. We shall find that we are now committed to an 
assumption that is at least as difficult to sustain as that 
of the freedom of the will. 

Determinisms Uncritical Acceptance of die Notion 
of Causation. This is the assumption that physical 
causation means something and that we know what 
it means.* Upon this assumption the ^frh^mft^r concep- 
tion of the universe rests* The postulate of mechanism is 
that events are continually causing other events to happen; 
mechanism repudiates the notion of an uncaused event Yet, 

1 Sec my Gm* * Ptiktopb, Part III, for an account of some of 
thete theories. 


as the philosopher Hume (1711-1776) showed, we can 
find no basis in reason for the belief in causation. 1 
The notion of causation presupposes the presence of a 
bond or tie between the events which are deemed to be 
causally related; that is to say, between the so-called 
qtuse and the so-called effect Yet such a tie or bond is 
precisely what we are unable to discover. Hume's con- 
clusion is that, so far as reason and experience go, all that 
we are entitled to assume is regularity of sequence. To say 
that A causes B, means, in fact, no more than it has been 
frequently observed that B follows* A* Various attempts 
have been made to answer Hume's criticism of the notion 
of causation, but it cannot be said that any of them have 
been very convincing. The most elaborate attempt is that 
of Kant. Many people would regard Kant's defence of 
causation against Hume's criticism as successful, but the 
view of the universe which Kant's refutation inplies is 
dertainly not compatible with the mechanist conception 
which underlies the form of determinism we are con- 
sidering. Unless and until Hume is answered in a manner 
compatible with mechanism, we cannot, uncritically accept 
the scientific scheme of the universe with which the postulate 
of determinism is so intimately bound up, for this scheme, 
although it works well enough for practical purposes, en- 
tails an assumption which has no ertablished philosophical 
foundation. In this connection it is significant that physics, 
the most advanced of the sciences, has abandoned the 
notion of force acting from a distance, the notion, that is 
to say, that a body A, separated in space from another 
body B, can exert an influence over B, and has 
the conception of events happening in the 
contiguous neighbourhood of B to 
formerly thought to be due to the inflj 
emanating from body A. Yet the notion of a 
from one body and impinging upon 
bound up with what most of us mean by] 

* See My 0m* Philosophy, Chapter VIII, for 
criticiim of causation. 


for this reason, some physicists show an increasing dis- 
position to dispense with the notion of determinism 
in fields in which its efficacy has hitherto been unquestion- 
ingly postulated. 

(2) and (3) Criticism of the Arguments for Determinism 
Based upon a Consideration of the Mind-Body Problem 
the Conclusion^ of the Special Sciences 

The Necessary Assumptions of Science. The 
arguments for determinism based upon conclusions 
derived from a consideration of the relations between the 
mind and the body, also involve certain metaphysical 
assumptions, though these are less easy to detect than the 
assumption in regard to the nature of causation which 
underlies the mechanist view of the universe. 

Of these assumptions two are important. There is the 
assumption, first, that all things may be adequately re* 
garded as the sum total of their constituent parts and a 
nothing more than this sum total. There is the assumption, 
secondly, of the universal validity of what, in a previous 
chapter, I have called the mode of explanation in terms 
of origins. 1 The first of these assumptions has, by impli- 
cation, been rejected in Chapter II,* where I pointed out 
various senses in which some wholes may be regarded as 
being more than the sums of their parts* The second as- 
sumption implicitly denies the efficacy of teleological 
modes of explanation. 

Both assumptions are necessary assumptions of scientific 
method* That this is so may be seen by reflecting on the 
function of science. The function of science is to classify 
and predict In order that it may effectively perform this 
function, it must take the objects with which it deals to 
pieces in order to find out what are their component parts. 
Observing that the pieces into which it has broken up some 
initially unknown thing which happens to be under in* 
veitigajtion are of the same kind as the pieces of some 
other thing whose behaviour it already knows, science 
*See Chapter I, pp. 98-29. *See Chapter II, pp. 50-54. 


associates the unknown thing with the known thing as 
members of the same general class, repeats the procedure 
in relation to a number" of other unknown things, and 
on the basis of the resultant classification draws up a, 
formula governing the behaviour of all members of the 
class, both those members of it which have been examined 
and those which have not* The unknown thing under 
investigation is then brought under the formula, with the 
result that it is possible to calculate and predict its behaviour. 
But if we are to regard this procedure as valid, we must, 
it is obvious, assume that a thing is analysablc without 
remainder into its pieces and so is capable of classification 
in terms of them. 

Secondly, if it is to perform the function of prediction, 
science must also assume that everything has its complete 
cause in the state of affairs from which it took its rise. 

Now science cannot help but proceed in this way; 
it cannot, that is to say, help assuming that a thing is 
only the sum of its parts or pieces and that it is completely 
determined by its constituents and origins. If any compound 
could result from a particular combination of elements, 
if the same compound did not always in fact result from that 
combination, if a totally or even partially different effect 
were to follow the application of what appeared to be the 
same cause, then science as an established body of know- 
ledge would be impossible. Thus the experiments of 
science are conducted on the assumption that the universe, 
or at any rate that aspect of the universe which science 
studies, is like a gigantic piece of machinery, every part 
of which is just a collection of smaller parts, and every 
event in which is both the cause of its necessary and pre- 
dictable result, and is itself the necessary and predictable 
result of its cause. 

The Extension of Scientific Method to the Treatment of 
Human Beings. Nor can science depart from this 
standpoint when, it seeks to give an account of a human 
being. It cannot, merely because it is concerning itself 


with living things, allow the possibility that some arbitrary 
non-mechanical principle of life may at any moment 
intrude itself to upset die causal chain of stimulus and 
response which mechanist biology seeks to establish. 
Thus it is no accident that field and laboratory workers 
in biology are strongly mechanist in sympathy and out* 

As with biology, so with psychology. In so far as science 
is successful in bringing human beings within its scope, 
its success depends upon its ability to treat them as highly 
complex mechanisms whose workings are subject to the 
same laws as those which are observed to hold in the rest 
of the world, a world which it is the purpose of science to 
describe. Of this world human beings are themselves a part, 
and the laws which science reveals as governing the events 
which occur in it must, if the scientific standpoint is to be 
maintained, be exemplified in the lives flnd histories of 
the men and women who are items of its contents. If we 
cannot as yet show this exemplification in detail, that, 
science insists, is only because of the lack of adequate 
knowledge. Men, in other words, must be studied as 
responding to stimuli, ainni the mtindi in so 

far as its separate existence is conceded, must through the 
speech and actions which are commonly said to spring 
from it, be studied as objectively as the growth of a plant 
or the movements of a planet Inevitably, then, Behaviour- 
ism is the appropriate psychology for the scientist. "The 
behaviourist," Bays Professor Watson, "puts the human 
organism in front of him and says, What can it do? When 
does it start to do these things? If it doesn't do these things 
by reason of its original nature, what can it be taught to 

Thus the human being is treated as a laboratory speci- 
men who is under observation. How, the behaviourist asks, 
will a particular specimen behave when confronted with 
a certain situation? and, conversely, when a specimen 
behaves in a certain way, what is the object or situation 
which causes it so to behave? These are strictly scientific 


questions* Unquestioningty, the view which suggests them 
postulates the universal applicability of the law of cause and 
effect It assumes that an account of behaviour in terms of 
that law is adequate and ultimate, and it refuses to admit 
the existence of any intrusive immaterial element such as 
consciousness or mind* If such exists, then, say the ad- 
vocates of this view, it plays no part in determining what 

The Analysis of Man. Let me cite an example of 
such laboratory treatment In his book The Proper Study 
of Mankind Mr. B. A. Howard quotes the following signifi- 
cant prescription: 

Enough water to fill a ten-gallon barrel; 

enough fat for seven bars of soap; 

carbon for 9,000 lead pencils; 

phosphorus for 2,200 match-heads; 

iron for one medium-sized nail; 

lime enough to whitewash a chicken coop; and 

small quantities of magnesium and sulphur. 

Take these ingredients, combine them in the right 
proportions in the right way and the result, apparently, 
is a man. This, at least is one of the things that a man is. 
There is, in other words, a scientific formula for the 
production of men as there is for the production of any 
other commodity. And, if it be objected that the formula 
applies only to the body, and that the mind has been left 
out of the recipe, we have only, as we have seen above, 
to go to the biologists and geneticists for information as 
to genus, species, race, initial inheritance, and distribution 
of chromosomes' and genes, and to the psychologists for a 
statement of inherited disposition, temperament, mental 
structure and unconscious complexes, and the mind and 
character can be brought within the bounds of the formula. 
Now just as, if you know the formula for the ingredients 
of a chemical compound, you know how the compound 
will behave in such and such conditions, so, from the stand- 


point of science, if you know die formula for the ingredients 
of a man's bodily and mental constitution, you can tell 
how a human being will behave in such and such circum- 
stances; for, directly you take it to pieces and examine the 
parts them, as we have seen, each part appears to be 
completely determined by the others* The assumptions 
involved in this treatment are those which have already 
been pointed out. It is assume*! that a man is the sum 
total of the pieces into which he can be analysed and that 
he is the product of the antecedents from which he can 
be shown to have derived. 

- So treated, a man inevitably appears to be determined. 
His constitution is determined by its constituent parts 
just because, from Ms point of view, it is the sum of its 
constituent parts, and his present is conditioned by his 
past antecedents just because, when he is so regarded, it is 
the outcome of his antecedents. 

How die Scientist Brings Himself Within the Deter- 
minist Scheme. Now these, it must again be insisted, 
are the only lines along which science can proceed, and 
in so far as science aspires to give an account of a human 
being, ft is within the framework of these assumptions that 
the account must fell. To deny the applicability of the 
method or the adequacy of its results, is to deny the 
competence of science in certain spheres. It is to say in 
effect *when it comes to a question of mind and soul, 
the scientific method is no longer fruitful; at any rate its 
fruitfulness is limited'. And when the scientist proceeds, 
if ever he does, to consider himself introspectively, 
his Own consciousness and asks himself whence, 

in spite of all his intellectual arguments, this insistent 
sensation of freedom which he undoubtedly experiences 
derives, he will, it must be presumed, have little difficulty 
in bringing himself by analogy into the determinist 
scheme which he has*already framed to fit his fellows. 
He has, we must suppose, already taken the minds of his 
fellows to pieces and analysed their consciousness into 


series of carefully linked psychological events. These he 
has observed and correlated) as he might observe and 
correlate facts about crystals or about plants, and having 
framed certain formulae on the basis of his observations, 
he naturally regards those whom he has been observing 
as specimen examples which .obey the formulae. He then, 
we must further suppose, remembers that he too is, from 
the point of view of others, a specimen example. There- 
fore, since he cannot help but admit he is in no way 
exceptional, his own acts of will must, he will argue, be 
completely caused psychological events falling within the 
framework of the formulae which he applies to his fellows. 
* Therefore/ he will conclude, 'the sensations of voluntarf- 
ness which I undoubtedly experience must be illusory.' 

Doubts of Efficacy of Scientific Method as applied to 
Analysis of Human Beings* In criticism of this mode 
of treatment, the advocate of free will will point to die 
unproved assumption which throughout informs it. "It 
is, 9 he would say, 'a begging of the question from the start, 
to assume that the voluntary and purposive acts of human 
beings are events in the scientific sense of the word at all. 
They are, it is true, events in so far as they are caused and 
determined, but only in so far as thy an caustd and 
dcttrmintd, and whether they are wholly caused or 
determined or not, is precisely the question at issue. 
Nevertheless, I find it easy to SCQ why the scientist must 
take the line he does, and proceed, as if all events were 
determined by the factors which caused them, whether 
they are in fact so or not. For science, as I understand it, 
seeks to bring the phenomena which it studies under the 
aegis of law* In order that it may effect this purpose it 
must (a) classify the phenomena with other phenomena 
of the same type, and (b) represent them as effects of their 
conditioning causes. Classification of phenomena enables 
the scientist to predict the behaviour of the unknown X 
in the light of his knowledge of that of the known Y. 
Ability to represent phenomena* as effects enables him 


to predict the occurrence of A, given the known occurrence 
of A 1 . In turn, then* I conclude that a scientific explanation 
can only give an account of a thing in terms of the condi- 
tions which preceded and caused it; and I see, therefore, 
that by its very nature a scientific account must be a 
detenninist account. In so far, however, as a phenomenon 
is not completely determined by the conditions which 
preceded it, science is disabled from explaining it, or from 
accounting for its occurrence. Now I do not deny that those 
phenomena which are human acts of volition are influenced 
by pre-disposing factors, those, namely, upon whid* the 
sciences of biology, psychology, anthropology and the rest 
lay stress. The question which concerns me is whether they 
are compUtel^ determined by these fectors. Now this 
question is one which your decision to adopt a scientific 
mode of approach begs from the outset. Put the question 
as you put it, and you are bound to give to it a detenninist 
answer, for the conditions under which you put it dictate 
the terms of your Answer. But, whether the question 
can be so put, depends very largely upon whether the 
phenomenon under consideration can be adequately 
regarded as the sum of its parts. For my part, I contend 
that if the phenomenon in question is an act of human 
will, it cannot be so regarded/ The principle which under- 
lies the denial with which the foregoing criticism of deter- 
minism as applied to human beings concludes is that some 
wholes are, as I suggested in an earlier chapter, 1 more 
than the sum of their parts. 

DcputiiiaiiitKiffd Account of Human Nature. Now, 
it is not, I think, difficult to show that a human being is 
a whole of this kind. Suppose that we try to take a human 
being to pieces and see what results we obtain. The pieces 
will, presumably, be those which the separate sciences 
take for their special province* , each science making it 
its business to give an account of a different piece. We will 
suppose that these various accounts are drawn up and 
*Se Chapter H, pp. 59-54. 


collated* We will imagine ourselves to begin with the 
physiological account in terms of tubes and pipes, nerves 
and bones and blood vessels. These, presumably, can be 
analysed into their dhtcmferi compounds, and there will 
be, therefore, a chemical account in terms of molecules 
and elements. These, again, can be analysed in terms of 
their atomic constituents, and to the chemist's, therefore, 
we must add the physicist's account in terms of protons 
and electrons. Beginning at the other end of the scale, 
we shall have to include the psychologist's account in 
terms of mental events, images, sensations and so forth, 
with special departmental accounts such as the behaviour- 
ist's in terms of language habits and conditioned reflexes, 
and the psycho-analyst's in terms of unconscious desire 
and promptings of the libido. From other points of view 
there is the economic man and there is the median man of 
the statistician; there is man from the standpoint of the 
biologist and man as he appears to the anthropologist. 
There is also the account of particular individual men to 
be found in the works of the great novelists. Each of these 
accounts could in theory be made accurate and complete 
complete, that is to say, so far as it goes; yet each would 
be couched in different terms. To say that no one of these 
accounts conveys the whole truth about a man, but 
describes only some particular aspect of him which has 
been selected for special attention, would be to state a 

That a Man's Personality Eludes Scientific Description. 
But more than this is implied by the statement that a 
man is more than the sum of his aspects or parts and that 
an adequate account of him cannot, therefore, be given 
in terms of scientific descriptions of his parts* It is implied 
that, if all the different accounts, the physiological, the 
chemical, the physical, the psychological, die behaviour* 
istic, the psycho-analytic, the economic, the statistical, the 
biological, the anthropological and the novelist's, were 
collated, supplemented with other accurate and complete 


but partial accounts and worked up into a comprehensive 
survey, they would still fail to constitute tht truth about a 
man. And they would fail to do this, not because some 
particular piece of information had been left out, or some 
particular point of view forgotten for, it would be urged, 
no TflnttfT how complete the collection of scientific accounts 
might be, the truth would still elude them but because 
they would remain only a set of separate accounts of 
different parts or aspects, and a man is more than the 
different parts or aspects which are ingredients of him. 
True knowledge of a man is not, in other words, the sum- 
total of the complete and accurate accounts of all hjs 
different aspects, even if those accounts could be made 
exhaustive. True knowledge is, or at least includes, know- 
ledge of the man as a whole. To know a man as a whole, 
is to know him as a personality, for a personality is the 
whole which, while it integrates all the parts and so 
includes them within itself, is, nevertheless, something 
over and above their sum. Now to know a man as a 
personality, is to know hi in a manner of which science 
takes no cognizance. It is to know him as an acquaintance, 
and it is, for deeper knowledge, to love him as a friend. 
The conclusion is that in the degree to which a man 
may be considered to be more than the sum of his parts 
or aspects, science is disabled from giving a full and 
complete account of him. If, then, we are agreed that he 
may rightly be so considered, we shall refuse to treat the 
scientific account of him, which fokffl Kim to pieces flpd 
then represents him as the resultant sum of the pieces, as 
exhaustive. There is always, we shall insist, some factor 
in a human being which escapes from the meshes of the 
scientific net, and this is precisely the factor in respect of 
which he is more than die sum of the parts or aspects 
which the sciences study. It is also in virtue of this factor 
that he is free. 

Acts of Will as Acts of Creation. If this conclusion 
is true of a man's personality, it will be true also of at 


least some of the acts in which his personality expresses 
itself; for example, of his acts of will. Acts of will un- 
doubtedly occur, and because they do occur, they can be 
treated as events in exactly the same way as any other 
events which the sciences stu^y, the particular science 
which undertakes their investigation being psychology. 
But they may be, and if the foregoing argument is correct, 
they always are, more than events, and, in so faf as they 
are more, the scientific analysis will foil to apply to them; 
at least it will fail to apply completely. Prima facie every 
act of free choice certainly appears to embody a new 
creation, and it is certainly not a foregone conclusion 
that the appearance is a delusion. It may, on the contrary, 
be due to precisely that characteristic of acts of will which 
I am seeking to emphasize, the characteristic, namely, 
in virtue of which every such act, though it is an event 
and to this extent is scientifically determined like other 
events, is also more than an event. It may also be the 
case that it is in virtue of this "more" that the act wears 
the appearance of being free and provides us with the 
experience of freely willing. 

Bergson's Treatment of Freedom. Although I have 
put the foregoing argument into my own words, it follows 
fairly closely the lines along which many philosophers 
have sought to rebut the arguments against determinism. 
The philosopher Bergson, for example, sponsor of the theory 
of creative evolution, has more forcibly than any other 
writer emphasized the creative character of acts of will. 
It is this character which, he insists, will slip through 
our fingers, if we consider acts of will in isolation from theic 
context, or try, as science tries, to analyse them into their 
component parts. It is impossible to do justice to Bergson's 
treatment of freedom without giving some account of his 
metaphysical views, and for this I would refer the reader 
to my Guide to Pkilosoply, Chapter XIX, Briefly, Bergson 
regards determinism as the sort of view which the intellect 
must inevitably take with regard to the nature of reality, 


because of the intellect 1 ! incorrigible habit of cutting up 
the reality with which it deals into link bits. When the 
reality which is an individual personality is divided into 
bits, each part of it appears to be causally dependent upon 
all the other parts, each event in it to be the necessary 
result of every other event, each phase of the character 
which the personality assumes to be the product of all the 
past phases, and each action in which it expresses itself 
to be determined by all the motives and desires which are 
playing upon it at the moment of action. 

But this view, Bergson insists, is only true of the part, 
the event, the phase, and the action when they are con* 
sidcrcd in isolation. Now an action considered in isolation 
is an abstraction and a false abstraction from the action 
which in real life occurred. The abstracting has been done 
by the intellect which insists on regarding our personality 
as being made up of states of consciousness which persist 
unchanged until they are replaced by other states, and of 
actions in which the separate states of consciousness express 
themselves. Having made this abstraction, the intellect then 
proceeds to reason about the actions so abstracted, as if 
they were isolated and self-contained events springing from 
and entirely conditioned by the states of which they are 
the expressions. 

But, Bergson insists, the life of the individual is not to 
be regarded as a succession of changing states; the life of 
the individual is a continuous and indivisible flow, and it 
is precisely when it is taken as such that it is seen to be 
free and undetermined. Divide die individual's life into 
parts, consider the individual's actions separately, and you 
will find that each part and each action is determined by 
its predecessors. But what is true of the parts is not true 
of die personality as a whole. It is the nature of life to be 
creative, and the individual taken as a whole is necessarily 
creative by virtue of the fact that he is alive. But if his 
life is creative, and creative in each moment of it, it is 
clear that it is never completely determined by what 
went before. If it were so determined, it would only 


be an expression of the old, and not a creation of 
the new. 

Free will, then, Bcrgson holds, is creative action; that 
is to say, action as it really is, while determinism is a 
belief imposed upon us by our intellectual view of reality, 
which reasons so convincingly, not about our lives as a 
whole, but about that false abstraction from our lives which 
is a separate state of consciousness and about its expression 
in action. 

But do we, in spite of the intellect's convincing reason, 
really believe in determinism? Our reason may, indeed, 
be convinced, but our instinctive belief, persisting in the 
teeth of reason, is that we are free. Why does instinctive 
belief persist in contradicting reason? Because, says 
Bergson, instinctive belief is of the character of intui- 
tion, whose function it is to comprehend life as a whole. 
Seen as a whole, life is a creative activity, and its nature, 
therefore, is to be free to create the future. 

B. The Minimum Conditions for Free Will 

Involuntary, Voluntary and Willed Actions. The 
positive case for free will is, as I have already suggested, 
difficult to divorce from metaphysical ' considerations. 
Something, however, may be said on the subject of the 
mjnirpiim conditions which are necessary, if the freedom 
of the will is to be at least possible. These conditions have 
been set forth by Professor A. E. Taylor, whose treatment 
I have partly followed in the ensuing exposition. 

It will be convenient to begin by making a distinction 
between willed actions, voluntary actions and involuntary 
actions. An involuntary action is one which is performed 
by a body without any necessary intervention on the part 
of the mind; for example, withdrawing the hand from an 
unexpectedly hot surface, falling over a precipice, or 
contracting the pupils of the eyes. For these, it is obvious, 
no freedom is, or can be, claimed. Voluntary actions I 
shall define, for the purpose of the present discussion, as 


those which proceed from the promptings of a particular 
impulse which they express; for example, breaking the 
furniture in a rage, singing in the bath, boasting when 
drunk, or taking to one's heels when pursued by an angry 
bull. Now there may be some sense in which these actions 
are free; some sense, that is to say, in which the agent 
who performed them need not have done so. If, however, 
there is such a sense, it is not here proposed to try to estab- 
lish it. My present concern is only with those actions 
which would normally be regarded as proceeding from 
deliberate choices. These I propose to call " willed actions". 
A willed action is one that I perform when, after balancing 
two alternatives one against the other, I deliberately opt 
for one of them because it seems to me, as the result of a 
dispassionate survey of all the evidence which can be 
adduced in favour of both, to be the better of the two. 
When, for example, in a game of chess after deliberating 
whether to move a bishop or a knight I decide to move 
the knight, my action is a willed action in the sense 
defined. Now although the distinction between voluntary 
and willed actions may be difficult to establish in theory, 
it is, I think, sufficiently clear in practice. For example, 
in referring to a particular situation which we expect to 
occur, we may 'determine in advance to follow a deliber- 
ately planned course of action, or we may determine to 
trust to the impulse of the moment; to prepare a speech 
with a sheaf of notes, or to speak as the spirit moves; to 
follow a route previously marked out with the aid of a 
map, or to follow our fancy and be guided by the weather. 

The Significance of Character Formation for Free Will 
A fruitftd line of approach to the problem of freedom is 
afforded by a consideration of the difference between a 
formed and an immature character. Aristotle suggested that 
the distinctive feature of what is popularly called a "formed 
character" is the ability of its possessor to escape from 
domination by impulse, and to act upon a deliberately 
planned rule of conduct. The more formed our character is, 


in other words, the more frequently ,do we perform what I 
have defined as willed as compared with voluntary actions. 
It is difficult not to recognize the force of Aristotle's view. 
Actions which spring from one or other of the particular im- 
pulses belong precisely to that class of action to which the 
arguments based upon the conclusions of the sciences an- 
thropology, biology, psychology and the rest most forcibly 
apply. For to act from impulse if, indeed, we ever do 
act purely from impulse, and I am for the purpose of argu- 
ment imagining an extreme case, which may be a hypo-r 
thetical case, in which we do so act is to express as it 
were a particular "part" or "bit" of oneself. Now it is 
precisely in so far as a human being can be regarded as 
made up of parts precisely in so far as we are able to see 
him as a collection of bits which can be separated, so that 
we can see what he is made up of that, I have suggested, his 
actions wear a determined appearance. It is only in so 
far as he acts as a whole as a whole, that is to say, which 
is more than the sum of its parts that he may be able to 
escape complete determination by the thousand and one 
influences of heredity, constitution, training and so forth, 
that play upon him. What is popularly known as the forma* 
tion of character, may, then, from the point of view of the 
present discussion, be regarded as the building up of a 
personality which, in so far as it is entitled to be regarded 
as a whole, both integrates and transcends the parts which 
have gone to its making. 

Freedom a Negative Conception. The fact that it is 
only for acts which may properly be regarded as expres- 
sions of the whole personality that the claim to a measure 
of freedom can in any event plausibly be made, suggests 
a new and important point. Freedom of the will is in 
essence a negative conception. It is freedom from domina- 
tion by particular influences, those, namely, which the 
various sciences investigate and emphasize. These influences 
may be thought .of as hampering the operations of our 
reason and blurring the clearness of our vision; and, since 


I am trying to make out the case for freedom, in any event 
a difficult case, in the clearest and most convincing form 
in which I can find it, I shall add that the case with which 
I am concerned is the case in which the operations of our 
reasons are hampered, the clearness of our vision blurred, 
when we are pursuing what Socrates called the Good. 

That Man has a Natural Disposition to Pursue and 
Revere the Good. Socrates, it will be remembered, 1 
held that, if a man perceived the Good, he must pursue 
it, and that all wrong-doing, therefore, was a form of 
mispcrccption, arising from the fact that we take that to be 
good which is not. That this is so in regard to our general 
judgments of good may well be the case; for, other 
things being equal, we have, as I have already tried to 
point out, 1 a natural tendency to value and pursue good- 
ness as opposed to evil. To adduce again a few of the more 
obvious examples of this generalization: for telling the 
truth no justification is required, but we always lie in 
order to gain a particular end by lying. We lie, in fact, for 
a reason, but we tell the truth, when we do tell it, for no 
reason at all; other things being equal, to tell the truth is 
the natural thing to do. Similarly with honesty; when we 
deal fairly with others over matters of property and pay 
our just debts, we do these things, if I may so put it, for 
their own sake. To quote the philosopher Thomas Reid 
(1710-1796): "It may always be expected that they 
[mankind] will have some regard to truth and justice, 
so far at least as not to swerve from them without tempta- 
tion." Thus modes of conduct normally called good are 
often regarded as ends in themselves. When, however, we 
steal or falsify accounts, we do so in order that we may 
achieve some end beyond the activity of falsification, the 
end, namely, of securing for ourselves money which would 
not otherwise come to us. All men, again, prefer happiness 
to unhappiness, think kindness to be better than cruelty, 
and consider a good-tempered person more admirable 
1 See Chapter II, pp. 46 and 48. f See Chapter VI, pp. aia, 213. 


-than a bad, an unselfish than a selfish. So far, then, as the 
qualities of character, by Reference to which we deem a 
man virtuous, are concerned, we have a general disposition 
to revere, we may even, as Socrates held, have a natural 
tendency to pursue, the Good. What is more, it seems 
probable that in the matter of this tendency and disposition 
we cannot help ourselves. It seems probable, that is to 
say, that, just as we cannot help seeing that a certain 
conclusion follows by valid reasoning from self-evident 
premises, so we cannot help preferring what we take to be 
good to what we take to be evil. To the extent that we 
could help doing this, we should not, it may be said, be 
fully human beings. The following quotation from T. H. 
Huxley admirably expresses this view; "While some there 
may be who, devoid of sympathy are incapable of duty, 
. . . their existence [does not] affect the foundations of 
morality. Such pathological deviations from true morality 
are merely the halt, the lame and the blind of the world 
of consciousness; and the anatomist of the mind leaves 
them aside as the anatomist of the body would ignore 
abnormal specimens/' 

That we are Free to Go Wrong in Particular Cases. 
When, however, we come to particular cases, we find no 
such obvious determination. Although I must "needs 
love the highest when I sec it," I am free to turn my eyes 
away from the highest and to give my energies to the 
pursuit of ease, power or wealth here and now. Though I 
am bound to desire what I take to be good, I am not 
bound to identify my good with moral virtue; I may see 
it in sensual indulgence or power over my fellows. Although 
I cannot help but subscribe to the general proposition 
that honesty is to be honoured above dishonesty, I may 
find it all too easy on a particular occasion to be dis- 
honest; nor does my general preference for good temper 
over bad prevent me from being disagreeable when I get 
up in the morning. Thus we certainly seem to be free on 
particular occasions either to do what on general principles 

264 . ETHICS 

we believe to be right, or what we know to be wrong. 
And, admittedly, on particular occasions we often do do 
what we know to be wrong. The Latin tag already quoted : 

" . . . Video meliora proboque 
Deteriora sequor . . . . " 

(I see the better course and approve it, but I follow the 
worse), enshrines a mournful and only too familiar truth. 
Yet a perfect being would, presumably, always follow the 
better course; so, presumably, would we, if we were always 
to follow our natural inclination to pursue the Good. 
Why, then, on some particular occasion, do we not pursue 
it? Prima facie for one or other of two reasons. The first 
is that our vision of the Good may be clouded by some 
obscuring factor. Thus, if we are in a towering rage, we 
do things that in our calmer moments we should, and 
subsequently do, recognize to be harmful to others and to 
ourselves; things which, as we say, we subsequently regret, 
The second reason is that our will to follow the Good 
may be undermined by some particularly seductive 
temptation. For example, the general approval of honest) 
which expresses itself in a resolute refusal to abstain frorr 
forging a cheque when one has the chance, may be over- 
borne on a particular occasion by one's need for mone) 
with which to dazzle a desired woman. 

Now these clouding and undermining elements, of whicl 
I have instanced two, are precisely those whose presena 
in our general make-up is due to the factors of whici 
the sciences take account. It is because of my heredity 
it may be said, that I am prone to fall into such biindinj 
rages. It is because of my training that I am apt to be la: 
about money matters; because of my physiological consti 
tution that I am subject to overmastering sexual desire 
for women who attract me. 

Now the question to which our discussion of fireedon 
must address itself is whether it is ever possible for me t 
win free from the influence of these factors, whether the 


are inherited, environmental or physiological, which cloud 
my judgment or undermine my will, with the result that 
I do not recognize what it is right for me to do or, having 
recognized what is right, nevertheless do something 
different. If freedom is a fact and I am, it will be remem- 
bered, concerned only to indicate the minimum conditions 
which must be satisfied, if freedom is a fact it will consist 
in just this ability to eliminate the influence of the factors 
which science emphasizes, so that my judgment can give 
an unhampered verdict upon what is right, and my will 
then proceed to realize in action that of which my judg- 
ment approves. Thus to act freely will, on this view, be 
to do what one's judgment, uninfluenced by the bias of 
inherited or environmental factors, tells one that one ought 
to do. We may thus fine down the issue of our discussion 
to this single question, are we ever in this sense free? 

St. Thomas Aquinas on Freedom. In discussing free- 
dom the philosopher Leibniz (1646-1716), a professed 
believer in free will who, nevertheless, frequently gives 
unwitting hostages to determinism, invokes the simile of 
a swinging pendulum. The pendulum, he points out, 
never really comes to rest; it is always swinging in one 
direction or the other. Similarly, the estimates and judg- 
ments of the human mind are never completely unbiased; 
they are always inclined in one direction or another, and 
they are inclined from the start. I mention the simile 
because, if it is apposite, if, that is to say, human nature 
is in fact like a swinging pendulum, which is never at rest, 
then the belief in free will must be surrendered. For the 
minimum condition of free will is that there should be a 
period of deliberation during which we compare the vari- 
ous alternative courses of action which arc before us, and 
weigh and estimate their respective merits, while not, as 
yet, inclining to any one. A phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas's 
(1227-1274) clearly brings out the nature of this unbiased 
period of deliberation. While I am weighing the various 
alternatives, comparing their respective merits and wonder- 


ing which is the better, I am, he says, "^determined to 
either Alternative ". Professor Taylor proceeds to develop 
St. Thomas's view as .follows: "When the comparison is 
over and the estimate 4 A is better than B* passed, this 
indetermination ceases; my will is now determined, or to 
speak in the more accurate terminology of our own psy- 
chology, I am determined to take A and leave B, and what 
I am determined by is this judgment of relative worth. 
In other words, what is demanded as a minimum condition 
of accountability is that I shall be able to make an impartial 
estimate, correct or otherwise, of the two relative values. 
It is not the case that whenever I attempt such a com- 
parison some secret influence, the violence of a present 
desire, the persistence of an old opinionativc prejudice, 
the effects of my past habits, hereditary non-rational bias, 
or what you please, tilts the scales of the balance. Of course, 
we all know that all these sources of bias do exist and may 
interfere with our estimates, but precisely because we are 
aware of the feet, a prudent man sets himself to discover 
these sources of prejudice and to eliminate them. Admit 
simply that the elimination can Sometimes be achieved, 
that sometimes at least we act as we do because we have 
made an impartial comparative judgment about the rela- 
tive value of two goods of which we cannot have both, 
and in principle you have admitted all that clearheaded 
libertarians mean by the 'freedom of the will'." 

The passage I have quoted emphasizes the following 

(i) that we are usually biased in our choice of actions 
by the factors upon which the various sciences lay stress; 

(a) that, nevertheless, we can on occasion eliminate this 
bias and impartially weigh the merits of the various 
alternatives that present themselves; 

(3) that, when we do so, that which induces us to choose 
alternative A rather than alternative B is an impartial 
estimate of their respective merits; 

(4) that in making this estimate the will is free. It is of 
cpune determined in one sense, determined by what it 


perceives to be the superior goodness of A as compared 
with B. But determination by the Good or, to elaborate 
the phrase, freedom to escape from inherited or constitu- 
tional bias and to be determined solely by the Good is all 
that the advocate of free will can fairly claim. 

(5) We might add the point is one which I have 
already made above in another connection that the 
formation of what is commonly known as "character" 
consists precisely in the ability to eliminate the bias 
imparted to our wills by factors outside our control, 
whether inherited, environmental or constitutional, and 
to choose precisely what seems to us, as the result of an 
impartial consideration of all the available data, to be 
the best or most reasonable course. 

The Nature of the Faculty Involved in Choice. It 
will be observed that throughout the foregoing the stress 
has been laid upon reasonable choice. This stress is deliberate. 
I have already emphasized the point that, if the faculty 
with which we choose is impulse or desire, if choice i$ 
primarily an expression of the appetitive, or emotional 
parts of our nature, then it is difficult, if not impossible, to 
emancipate it from determination by the various factors 
of heredity, environment, constitution, disposition and the 
rest; for it is the non-rational aspects of our nature which are 
pre-eminently the products of these factors. The question 
discussed above, whether reason can ever motivate to 
action, is, therefore, highly relevant to our consideration 
of the frccwill-detcrminist issue. I have already glanced 
at the considerations which have been adduced by those 
who deny that reason ever can. What is there to be said 
on the other side? 

Nothing in the nature of proof is available. In the last 
resort we can only consult our own consciousnesses and ask 
ourselves whether what is commonly called thought ever 
does prompt our actions, and, where the issue raised 
involves an appeal to introspection, it may be doubted 
whether the philosopher has anything of special value to 


contribute. Nevertheless) most of those who have written 
upon this topic have felt themselves able to announce 
with some degree of unanimity that their reasons can and 
do motivate them to action. There are two general con- 
siderations which may be relevantly mentioned 

FACULTIES. First, no sharp division of faculties, between 
reason and emotion or between reason and passion, is 
feasible. As I pointed out when discussing Plato's three- 
fold division of the soul 1 , most psychologists are agreed 
that, to speak of the human psyche as if it were a bundle 
of faculties, as if, for example, it were or contained reason 
plus will plus emotion, is to falsify the facts of consciousness. 
We can only do justice to these facts by conceiving of the 
psyche as at any given moment functioning in a predomin- 
antly reasonable or a predominantly emotional way. I 
suggest elsewhere* that the activity of consciousness is 
always in essence cognitive, that an act of consciousness 
is, that is to say, always a knowing of something other than 
itself upon which the activity of consciousness is directed. 
Whether a particular state of consciousness is such as we 
call reasonable, or whether we describe it rather as emo- 
tional or appetitive depends upon the degree to which the 
cognitive activity of knowing is emotionally or desirefiilly 
coloured. The questions raised by this assertion belong to 
the theory of knowledge and cannot be pursued here. What 
for our present purpose is important is the recognition 
that, whatever the nature of the psychological activity 
in which at any given moment we happen to be engaged, 
it is not a special faculty, for example, reason or imagination 
or emotion or desire, which is being called into play, but 
the whole psyche which at that moment is expressed in 
the activity. 

As I pointed out when discussing Plato's theory of the 
soul 1 , it is not the case that the soul is divided into three 

1 See Chapter II, pp. 55-57. * See Chapter XI, pp. 410-412. 
See Chapter II, pp. 56, 57. 


parts in the strict sense of the word "parts". What is the 
case is that the whole soul expresses itself at any given 
moment in what is a predominantly conative, spirited or 
rational activity. Plato, it will be remembered, puts this 
point by attributing to each part of the soul its own 
characteristic appctition. Reason, therefore, has its appeti- 
tive side; it is not merely the static or mechanical instru- 
ment of a dynamic desire. Reason no less than desire is 
dynamic ; it,, too, ' ' makes after ' ' ends, but its ends are differ- 
ent ends from those of desire. They are such as appear 
desirable specifically and distinctively to reason. When, 
then, we say that reason can determine choice and motivate 
to action, we are postulating not a bloodless faculty of 
intellectual apprehension, but a mode of thinking, or, as 
I should prefer to say, of experiencing, that can not only 
impartially judge the lightness and reasonableness of a 
particular line of action or the desirableness of a particular 
end, but incline the agent to act upon the line decided, 
and to pursue the end which is judged reasonable. 

THE SPHERE OF THE INTELLECT. In the second place, 
it is worth pointing out that those cases in which the exer- 
cise of our freedom appears to us to be most unmistakable 
belong pre-eminently to the intellectual sphere. The chess- 
player's decision to move his knight rather than his bishop, 
the traveller's decision when in doubt about the way 
to take the left fork rather than the right, the investor's 
decision that A rather than B is likely to prove the safer 
security, the candidate's that X in an examination paper is 
a question which he will be likely to answer more effectively 
than Y, certainly seem to the person deciding to be free; 
or, to translate in terms of the formula I have used, it 
certainly seems in cases of this kind that the will is, after a 
period of deliberation, "determined" only by the agent's 
4 'judgment of the relative worths" of the two alternatives 
between which he is deliberating. It is, of course, the case 
that these predominantly intellectual decisions can, in 

270 * ETHICS 

common with others, be represented by the dctenninist 
not as the expressions of a freely acting will, but as the 
determined resultants of the interaction of a number of 
factors over which the will has no control; it can even 
be shown that the will is itself one of these factors. But 
primn facie it is much harder to apply the explanation of 
choice of action in terms of origins to a man's decision to 
move his knight rather than his bishop than it is to his 
preference for a blonde over a brunette; much harder to 
show that his decision to take the left fork is determined 
by his physiological constitution, than it is to ascribe to 
physiological factors his preference for treacle toffee over 
marzipan. If, then, the fact of freedom is to be demonstrated 
in any sphere, the demonstration will be easiest in relation 
to those choices which would be normally said to be pre- 
dominantly rational. 

Free Will in Relation to Moral Choice. Most 
writers on ethics have held that moral choices are of this 
character. The position, then, which I have been outlining, 
namely, that the will is on occasion determined by nothing 
but an impartial judgment of the lightness or reasonable- 
ness of a particular line of action, is one which most moral 
philosophers have been disposed to adopt. On what grounds 
have they supported it? Or, to put again the question 
formulated above, how have they sought to show that 
what is called thought can motivate our actions? No very 
convincing argument has ever been brought forward in 
favour of this position. The issue, as I have already pointed 
out, is one in regard to which proof is not possible. What 
the philosophers have done is what, on a previous page, 
I suggested that the reader should do, they have looked 
into their own consciousnesses and reported that, as Henry 
Sidgwick (1838-1900) puts it, " the perception or judgment 
that an act IB per st the right and reasonable act to be done 
is an adequate motive to perform it". 

Having looked into my own consciousness, I feel that I 
can subscribe to Sidgwick's affirmation; I believe, that is 


to say, that it is, on occasion, my perception of the light- 
ness or reasonableness of a certain course of action which 
determines me to move a piece at chess, to choose one fork 
of a road rather than another, or to select an investment. 
The philosophers, on the whole, have agreed with Sidg- 
wick. "An affection or inclination to rectitude cannot," 
says the eighteenth-century moralist, Price (1723-1791), 
"be separated from the view of it"; while T. H. Green, 
whose general attitude to the question under discussion 
is, as I have already hinted, 1 far from clear, denies that 
"those desired objects which are of most concern in the 
moral life of the civilized and educated man are directly 
dependent on animal susceptibilities at all". If Green is 
right in thinking that it is not our animal susceptibilities 
that cause us to do our duty, or to hunger and thirst after 
righteousness, then, presumably, it is the rational element 
in our natures. The philosophers Reid (1710-1796) and 
Kant similarly agreed that men do habitually prefer to do 
what is right and reasonable, unless they have an induce* 
ment to do otherwise; that man has, in fact, just because 
he is a rational animal, a standing bias, other things being 
equal, to do what he conceives to be the right and reason* 
able thing, and that he has this bias independently of all 
personal likes and dislikes. 

Summary of Foregoing. I have fined down the issue 
of this discussion to a question which, in the last resort, the 
reader must answer for himself. In considering what his 
answer shbuld be, I would suggest that he bear in mind the 
two positions which, in the preceding discussion, I have 
tried to establish. 

(x) It is sometimes possible to eliminate the influence 
of past factors which have made us what we are. There 
are, in other words, occasions on which the judgment 
with which I judge and the will with which I will are not 
wholly to be explained as the necessary consequences of 
past acts and influences. 

1 Sec p. 941 above. 

(a) Secondly, all writers are agreed that by freedom of the 
will we do not mean mere motiveless caprice. If, then, it is not 
my past which always determines my judgment, the question 
must be asked, " What it is that does "? The answer which 
has been suggested is that what determines my judgment 
in certain cases is the discerned goodness of a particular 
end or the perceived reasonableness of a particular course 
of action; something, in other words, is seen to be good 
and reasonable in and for itself. The validity of this answer 
depends upon the admissions (a) that men do possess a 
natural bias to do the right and to pursue the Good; 
(4) that it is with this predominantly reasonable part 
of themselves that they seek to do the right and pursue 
the Good; (c) that reason is not a separate and is never 
a purely cognitive faculty; when,- therefore, we do what we 
judge to be the right thing, and pursue what we judge 
to be the Good, it is the reasoning part of our natures that 
prompts our endeavours; reason, in other words, has itself 
an appetitive side; (d) that, although reason is inclined 
to do the right and to pursue the Good, it is never necessi- 
tated. It may be true that we are necessitated by the Good 
in general, in the sense that we cannot help preferring 
what we take to be better to what we take to be worse, but 
we are free not to pursue some particular good. We may 
not be able to withhold our assent from the conclusions 
of a chain of argument based upon self-evident assumptions, 
but we are certainly not forced to think correctly on a 
particular occasion. 

If these admissions be granted, then it will, * I think, 
be found difficult to answer the questions, "Can reason 
ever motivate action, and, when it does so motivate, 
can it be regarded as free ? ", in any sense other than 
the affirmative. 


C. Logical Arguments against Determinism 

FREELY EMBRACE TRUTH. The case for free will may 
be strengthened by certain arguments of a logical order. 
The strongest of these may be stated very shortly. If 
the conclusions of the detcrminist who bases his reasoning 
upon the results of the sciences are correct, our volitions 
are always determined by past events. When they relate 
to moral questions, our volitions take the form of judgments 
to the effect that so and so is right and good, and obliga- 
tions which we recognize to do our duty. The arguments 
rehearsed in the earlier part of this chapter endeavour to 
show that the judgment 'this is right' or 'this is good' 
or 'this is my duty' is never, as it appears to be, based 
upon a dispassionate investigation of the nature of the 
' this' in question, an impartial estimate of its moral worth, 
and an objective comparison of this worth with the worths 
of alternative objects of choice or courses of action. 

But if this argument is valid in regard to the judgment 
'this is right', it must also be valid in regard to the judg- 
ment 'this is true'. Nobody, therefore, who assents to 
the truth of the conclusion of a valid chain of reasoning 
from self-evident premises does so because his mind is 
convinced by the strength of the reasoning in question 
and the cogency of the conclusions that follow from it: 
he does so, because of the influence of past events which, 
in determining the general character of his mind, have 
determined also this particular judgment which is made 
by his mind. 

"What determines your likes and dislikes?" asks T. H. 
Huxley. "Did you make your own constitution? Is it your 
contrivance that one thing is pleasant and another pain- 
ful? " and answers that it is not. But if it is not, it is also not 
"your contrivance" when one thing seems to you to be 
true and another false. But if, when I think a particular 
proposition to be true, I do so not because it is in fact true, 
but because of my constitution or my training or of some 


event in my past history, then the fact that I do think it to 
be true, even die fact that I believe myself to be in a posi- 
tion to prow it to be true, is no reason for thinking it to be 
so. For to prove it, if to prove it to somebody, and die some- 
body is no more responsible for being convinced by my 
proof than am I for believing it to be convincing. 

Detenninists do not think of applying these considera- 
tions to the conclusions of their own reasonings. When, for 
example, they are advocating detenninist views, they make 
much of the impartial survey of the facts upon which their 
reasoning is based, stress the rigour of die reasoning by 
which they reach their conclusions, and draw attention 
to the open-minded and dispassionate character of their 
acceptance of the conclusions which necessarily follow 
from the facts, wounding though these conclusions may 
be to human pride, derogatory though they are .to human 
dignity. But what right, it may be asked, have they to 
claim impartiality for their survey of the evidence, validity 
for the processes of their reasoning, and dispassionateness 
for the acceptance, of their conclusion, if they deny the 
possibility of impartiality in iry survey of the comparative 
worths of alternative courses of action, and the dispassion- 
ateness of my preference for one of them as bring the 
better? For, if they insist that my judgment of what is 
right and reasonable in the sphere of conduct is determined 
for me by my past and not by me through my will, the same 
will hold good of their judgments of what is true and 
reasonable in the sphere of thought. That determinism is 
true and reasonable is one such judgment, but in the degree 
to which their arguments establish that it is true and 
reasonable, in that degree does the conclusion invalidate 
their arguments. For in showing that nobody ever em- 
braces determinism because he is really convinced by 
the arguments for it, the detenninist takes all the con- 
vincingness out of determinism. 



OF THE BttAiN. This conclusion applies with even greater 
force to those forms of determinism which base themselves 
upon Materialism. For these, as we have seen, maintain that 
mental events are either disguised bodily events or at 
least determined by bodily events. The psychology of 
Behaviourism, for example, asserts that thought consists 
of bodily movements, more particularly of movements 
in the larynx. Now the movements of the body may be 
necessary and determined, but they can no more be true 
than a quadratic equation can be purple or a musical 
chord can be covetous. It is, of course, the case that I 
may feel convinced that my thinking relates to the out- 
side world and correctly informs me of what happens there. 
But this conviction of mine is only another thought, and, 
therefore, a set of laryngeal movements, which, as I have 
pointed out, cannot of their very nature refer to anything 
outside themselves. 

It is also the case, if Behaviourism is correct, that these 
arguments of mine are themselves no more than movements 
in my larynx and nervous system which arc causally 
linked to other movements in my hand, as I write, and my 
face, as I talk. Therefore, they do not refer to Behaviour- 
ism at all. The reader's view of them is another set of 
movements in his larynx, and the belief that this is the 
correct description both of the arguments and of the reader's 
view of them is another set. It is impossible on these lines 
to find any basis from which thought can operate, for there 
are no common premises, no common presumptions, and 
no common conclusions of thought. On the basis of a 
thorough-going Materialism, every so-called thinker is 
boxed up within the circle of his own experiences. Thus 
the materialist locks up the mind if, indeed, he admits 
a mind at all in a cell % whose walls are the .neural and 
cerebral movements of his own body, which movements 
he plays no part in initiating. And, since nothing which 
mind experiences can reach it from outside these walls, 
so nothing that it thinks can refer to anything outside them. 
Materialism, then, which purports to be thought about 


the universe! turns out to be unable to tell us anything 
about the universe. It can only tell us about what is hap- 
pening in the bodies and brains of materialists. What is 
true of Materialism is true also of the determinism which 
is based on Materialism. 

EXPLAINED. For those readers, who are disposed to 
be impressed by purely logical arguments, I add one more. 

Let us suppose that the doctrine of determinism is true. 
It will follow that the belief in free will is an illusion. 
The question which has then to be answered is, how does 
this illusion arise? How, in a purely determinist world, is 
the fact of it to be accounted for? For, in a purely deter- 
minist world nothing can create anything, since every 
happening is the result of some preceding happening, and 
every event is a determined reaction to the environment 
in which it occurs. Now my belief in free will is an event. 
There can have been nothing in the causes which deter- 
mined the event to produce this belief, since, if the 
determinist is right, there is in fact no free will; and there 
can be nothing in the environment to which the event is 
a reaction to generate the belief, since, once again, if 
the determinist is right, there is in fact no free will. Even 
then, if the belief in free will is an illusory image owning 
no counterpart in fact, the difficulty must be faced that 
there is no original for the image to mirror, no reality for 
the illusion to reflect. How then, the question persists, 
does the image, even if it is illusory, arise? 

An example may help to illustrate the point. Let us 
suppose that a machine became conscious. Then we may 
conceive that it might entertain the illusory belief that it 
was free, for it would have a model on which to form this 
belief, an example of the freedom which it claimed for 
itself, in the apparently free behaviour of human beings. 
But suppose that there were no human beings; that there 
were no freely acting creatures anywhere in the universe. 
Whence could the machine derive the notion of freedom 


which it claimed, albeit falsely, for itself? What, if the 
metaphor can be forgiven, could have put such an idea 
into the machine's head? It seems impossible to answer 
this question. Now in a purely deterzninist world there 
are no freely acting creatures. There is, then, nothing in 
such a world whose behaviour could have suggested the 
notion of freedom to hunuui beings; nothing that could 
have put the idea of freedom into their heads. Yet, as 
we have already pointed out, they could not have spon- 
taneously generated the idea for themselves, for in such 
a world nothing is spontaneously generated. How, then, 
in a determinist world, can the illusion of freedom arise? 


Ethical Determinism. 

RASHDALL, H. H. The Theory of Good and Evil. 

Books on Materialism. , 
;*LANGE, F. A. The History of Materialism. 

COHEN CHAPMAN. Materialism Restated. 

Books on the Mind-Body Problem. 
XBROAD, C. D. The Mind and its Place in Nature, Section A. 

WISDOM, JOHN. Problems of Mind and Matter, Part I. 

Representative of Psychological Determinism. 
>AWSTOTLB. Nicomachaean Ethics, especially Book II. 

Any good modern book on psycho-analysis, for example, 

Freud, S. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. 

Representative of Anthropological Determinism, 

WESTERMARGK, F. The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas. 


On the power of reason to motivate action the following may 
be consulted: 

PRICE, RICHARD. Review of the Principal Questions of Morals* 
REID, THOMAS. Outlines of Moral Philosophy. 
CUDWORTH, RALPH. Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable 

A valuable treatment of the problem of freedom from the 
libertarian point of view will be found in A. E. Taylor's contribu- 
tion to Contemporary British Philosophy, Vol. II, entitled The 
Freedom of Man. A sketch of the philosophy of personality 
is contained in J. M. Macmurray's, Freedom in the Modern 


World. My*&ilosophical Aspects of Modern Science, Chapter 

VIII, may also be consulted. 
F. H. Bradley's Ethical Studies and T.H. Green's Prolegomena 

to Ethics contain valuable discussions of freewill and determinism. 

L. SUSAN STEBBINO'S Philosophy and the Physicists contains a 
critical discussion of the claims put forward on behalf of 
freewill by some modern physicists on the basis of recent 
developments in the theory of the atom. 



The Intuitionist Dilemma. The discussion of free- 
dom in the previous chapter was undertaken not only 
because of the importance for ethical theory of the estab- 
lishment of at least the possibility of moral freedom, but 
also because of its bearing upon the question of the nature 
of the moral faculty. The conclusion of the discussion was 
briefly that, if the moral faculties ( I use the plural, for both 
will and insight are involved) are feeling or akin to feel- 
ing, then the task of vindicating free will is wellnigh 
impossible; if on the other hand they are reason or akin 
to reason, then moral freedom may be plausibly main- 
tained. But if they are reason, or are at least reasonable, 
then they declare themselves unable to judge actions to 
be right or wrong without taking into account their conse- 
quences. Thus the view that some faculty within us pro- 
nounces upon moral issues as the faculty of smell makes 
pronouncements upon odours, judging actions to be right or 
wrong, characters to be good or bad, independently of 
the consequences of the actions or of the effects upon others 
of the characters, seems on examination difficult, if not 
impossible, to maintain in precisely the form in which 
I have stated it. We are, then, it appears, committed to 
taking consequence* into account when passing moral 
judgments. There is here a dilemma in which most 
forms of Intuitionism are involved: if the moral faculty is 
feeling or akin to feeling, its operations would seem to be 

280 * ETHICS 

determined ; if it is reason or akin to reason, it would appear 
to require the admission of considerations which 
Intuitionism would not regard as relevant* A brief exami- 
nation of the relevant views of some of the English 
intuitionists of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries 
will serve to underline this criticism. It is interesting to 
see how the views of these writers, who were in intention 
strictly intuitionist, nevertheless, evince an increasing dis- 
position to recognize the importance of taking consequences 
into account, and by so doing prepare the way for the 
criticisms which, in the nineteenth century, the utilitarians 
were to bring against the whole intuitionist position. 

Views of Shaftesbury. After Butler, whose views we 
have already considered, the most important writer of 
the English intuitionist school is Shaftesbury (1671-1713). 
His views, published in works entitled Enquiry Concern- 
ing Virtue and Characteristics of Men, Manners, Nations and 
Times is based upon a principle which he calls the Will of 
Nature. The Will of Nature is conceived primarily in 
physical terms; it is the force which underlies the unifor- 
mity of nature and maintains its equilibrium. Now human 
beings are part of nature; therefore the Will of Nature 
operates also in us. The Will of Nature is a beneficent force 
Shaftesbury often writes as if, by the Will of Nature, he 
meant what others have called the Will of God so much 
so, that we have only to act in accordance with it to achieve 
happiness. Happiness Shaftesbury conceives as a condition 
which may be achieved internally in complete indepen- 
dence of external circumstances; to obtain it we have only 
to live in accordance with the Will of Nature. Shaftesbury 
would have approved of Mrs. Knox's frequently re- 
iterated doctrine in Fanny's First Play that "happiness is 
within ourselves, and doesn't come from outward plea- 
sures. . . * If a girl has not happiness in her she won't 
be happy anywhere". 

This cheerfrd doctrine had two important consequences. 
The first was its influence upon what was shortly to be the 


dominating school of thought in the new science of economics, 
namely, the laissez-faire school. The manner in which this 
influence came to be exerted was broadly the following. 

The Will of Nature and Laissez-faire Economics. 
The Will of Nature demands the preservation and advance- 
ment of the self, and the self is preserved and advanced by 
pursuing its own self-interest. In pursuing its own self- 
interest it does not, as one might have thought, come into 
conflict with selves pursuing their self-interests. Why 
does it not? Because Shaftesbury shares Butler's con- 
viction of the fundamental identity between those actions 
which benefit the self and those which benefit others. 
Shaftesbury attacks what he calls "selfish theories" 
because he believes that they embody a mistaken view of 
self-interest; for it is, he thinks, by pursuing the good of 
society rather than by indulging our private whims, that 
we shall best advance the good of ourselves. This is 
because it is the same Will of Nature which animates both 
the self and other selves. The Will of Nature is beneficial; 
therefore, action which is in accordance with the Will is 
also beneficial. To pursue the true interest of the self is 
to act conformably with what the Will of Nature enjoins; 
therefore, action which promotes true self-interest is good 
and will be in harmony with the actions of others pursuing 
their true self-interests. There is, therefore, no opposition 
between private and public welfare; to pursue the latter 
is to achieve the former. 

This doctrine has important consequences in the spheres 
of politics and economics. For if to act in accordance with 
self-interest is to fulfil the Will of Nature, to act in accord- 
ance with self-interest is likely to produce socially beneficial 
results. Shaftesbury's conception of the Will of Nature 
thus helped to pave the way for what were subsequently 
to be known as laissez-faire economics. If in the sphere of 
economics a man acts in accordance with his true self- 
interest, and if he is right in his conception of what con- 
stitutes his self-interest, he will automatically promote the 


welfare of the community. The truly enlightened business 
man, like Shaftesbury's truly enlightened individual, 
realizes this ; he realizes, that is to say , that there is no conflict 
between his own interests and those of society. When he 
finds that what appear to be his personal interests and those 
of society conflict, he may be sure that he is mistaken in 
thinking that what appear to be his personal interests really 
are his personal interests; in so far as he fails to realize 
this mistake, he is not truly enlightened. The economist 
Adam Smith (1723-1790) puts the point as follows: 
"The study of a man's own advantage naturally, or rather 
necessarily, leads him to prefer that employment which 
is most advantageous to society." The conclusion is that 
if each man pursues his own true self-interest, the social 
and more, particularly, the economic effects are likely 
to be better than they would be, if human beings were 
prevented from pursuing their own interest by the arbitrary 
act of external authority; in fact they are likely to be the 
best possible. Thus the belief in the Will of Nature combined 
with the belief in the Natural Rights held by Locke 1 and 
also with the Hedonism of the utilitarians* to provide an 
ethical foundation for the economic theories which 
were associated with the development of the Industrial 
Revolution and the establishment of capitalist Indi- 

The Relation between Reason and Feeling. In the 
second place, the belief in the Will of Nature leads to an 
intuitional theory of morality. Shaftesbury discusses at 
length whether feeling or reason is the higher faculty, and 
concludes in favour of feeling. Among our feelings he 
includes direct intuitions in regard to moral issues. These, 
he holds, it is our duty to follow, and, since they spring 
direct from the operations of the Will erf" Nature within us, 
to act in accordance with our intuitions is to establish the 
best possible relations between the self and the world 
outside the self, in which the Will of Nature also prevails. 
1 See Chapter XIII, p. 493. * See Chapter IX, pp. 348, 349. 


As in Aristotle's ethics, reason is reduced tp the rdle of 
planning the steps which are necessary to give effect to 
our intuitions. The view that feeling is the mainspring of 
morality, and that the function of reason is confined to 
planning the means and estimating the results of gratify- 
ing our desires and giving vent to our feelings, has several 
times engaged our attention in the preceding pages. 1 
It is a view which continually recurs in the history of 
ethics, cropping up on occasions in the most unexpected 
places, as witness, for example, the following quotation 
from that champion of rationalism, T. H. Huxley: "In 
whatever way we look at the matter, morality is based 
on feeling not on reason; though reason alone is competent 
to trace out the effects of our action and therefore dictate 

(The ambiguity of this last statement, "therefore dic- 
tate conduct," indicates the difficulty of reaching any 
satisfactory conclusion in relation to this issue, if we per- 
sist in regarding reason and feeling as separate faculties 
endowed with separate functions. The discussion in die 
previous chapter, 1 and the conclusion in which it issued, 
that the division of the human personality into a set of 
separate faculties is untenable, was designed to guard 
against precisely this difficulty.) Huxley continues : 
"Justice is founded on the love of one's neighbour and 
goodness is a kind of beauty. The moral law like the laws 
of physical nature rests in the long run upon instinctive 

Huxley's instinctive intuitions bear a close resemblance 
to Shaftesbury's Will of Nature; we have only, it seems, to 
obey them, 'and all will be well. When, however, he comes 
to work out his doctrine in detail, Shaftesbury abates 
something of the full rigour of his Intuitionism. This he 
does in two respects, both of which point in the direction 
which the utilitarians were subsequently to take. 

1 See Chapter IV, pp. 110-116, and Chapter VII, pp. 268-271. 
1 See Chapter VII, pp. 268-371, also Chapter II, pp. 55-57. 


The Moral Faculty Distinguished by Shaftesbury 
from the Senses. Its Resemblances to the Reasoning 
Part of the Soul. In the first place, though he insists 
that "feeling" is at once the mainspring and the arbiter of 
morality, Shaftesbury ascribes to feeling functions whose 
performance most people would naturally be inclined to 
attribute to reason. There is, he says, a number of natural 
impulses in which the Will of Nature expresses itself.. But 
morality is not to be found in the indulgence of any one 
of them. It is the result rather of a reflective process which, 
taking its standpoint outside the circle of natural impulses, 
either approves of or condemns them. The approval and 
the condemnation which morality brings to bear on the 
natural impulses are not exclusively rational; on the 
contrary, they are informed with an emotional quality 
in virtue of which we can encourage the indulgence of 
the impulses approved, and discourage the indulgence of 
the impulses condemned. Although, however, it is pervaded 
by this emotional quality, obedience to the moral faculty 
is not, Shaftesbury is careful to insist, to be likened either 
to the indulgence of the senses or to the gratification of 

The whole account is strongly reminiscent of Plato's 
description of the reasoning part of the soul with its char- 
acteristic qualities of "appetition", in virtue of which it 
desires the good, and of "conation", by means of which 
it reproves the unruly impulses. 1 It also recalls Butler's 
insistence upon the authoritative aspect of conscience. 2 
In permitting us to make these comparisons Shaftesbury 
has, however, travelled a long way from the conception of 
an intuitive moral sense derived from and expressing the 
Will of Nature, of which we are entitled to ask nothing 
in the way of justification save only that it should function as 
the Will of Nature dictates. 

While Shaftesbury's move in the direction of Utili- 
tarianism is limited to attributing to the moral faculty, 
officially identified with feeling, functions which are 

1 See Chapter II, pp. 53, 56. * See Chapter VI, pp. 196, 197. 


normally regarded as being appropriate to reason, his 
predecessor, Cudworth (1617-1688) had pronounced 
quite unequivocally in favour of reason. With consider- 
able emphasis he insists that our consciousness of the 
difference between right and wrong depends wholly upon 
the exercise of our reasoning faculties, and in no degree 
whatever upon feeling or emotion. It is quite possible 
that this is true, but unfortunately for Cudworth 's Intui- 
tionism, our reasoning faculties refuse to make moral 
judgments without considering circumstances and conse- 
quences. I shall return later to this point and develop its 

Happiness the Reward of Virtue. There is another 
path which leads from Shaftesbury's Intuitionism to 
Utilitarianism. Shaftesbury's main position is quite un- 
equivocally that of an objective intuitionist; he holds, that 
is to say, that the universe contains elements or factors which 
we recognize to be good or right, but whose goodness or 
lightness is in no sense dependent upon our recognition 
of them. Misconduct is not wrong because we disapprove 
of it; we disapprove of it because it is wrong. When 
our feelings tell us that vice is odious they are, Shaftesbury 
holds, giving us true information about the nature of 
things. Similarly, virtue, which may bt defined on Shaftes- 
bury's view as the habit of acting in accordance with the 
moral law, that is to say, with the Will of Nature, is good 
whether its goodness is recognized or not. But, while 
insisting that virtue is good in itself, Shaftesbury concedes 
that it is also conducive to happiness and, because con- 
ducive to happiness, therefore good as a means to an end 
beyond itself as well as good in itself. 

On this point his view was reinforced by that of his con- 
temporary, Cumberland (1632-1718), who, more forcibly 
than Shaftesbury, emphasized the happiness-producing 
property of virtue. Public happiness, said Cumberland 
the utilitarians were later to call it the greatest happiness 
of the greatest number is a good. Hence any act which 


tends to increase public happiness is also a good. Cumber- 
land often writes in such a way as to suggest that for him 
a good act is simply an act which promotes public happi- 
ness; for example, he says "we derive the laws of nature 
from Ac results of human conduct, regarding that to be 
commanded of God, which conduces to the happiness of 
man 1 '. This is very close to the doctrine of the utilitarians, 
who held that the lightness of an act was to be measured 
by the degree to which its consequences were or were not 
conducive to happiness. Of all the intuitionists, indeed, 
Cumberland came nearest to building a bridge between the 
view which holds that a right act is one of which the moral 
sense approves because it is right, and the view that insists 
that it is one which promotes the best consequences. 

Inconsistencies of the BngKrfi Iniukbniits. The fore- 
going survey of some of the views of the English intuitionists 
will, it is hoped, have served the purpose of revealing the 
difficulties which the general theory of Intuitionism, to 
which in various ways they all subscribe, has to meet. 
Of some of these difficulties they were themselves con- 
scious, and it was this consciousness which led them to 
introduce into the doctrine of Intuitionism modifications 
which were inconsistent with the general theory. 

Examples of such modifications are Shaftesbury's 
attribution to the moral sense of reflective and selective 
functions which would normally be said to be exercised 
by reason, and his admission that virtue is not only a good 
in itself, but a means to a further good, namely, happiness. 
Both these modifications take us some way along the road 
which leads from Intuitionism to Utilitarianism* Before, 
however, I proceed to a statement of the utilitarian 
theories of morals in which these modifications of intui- 
tionist doctrine receive their full logical development, it 
will be convenient to complete the statement of what may 
be called the case against Intuitionism. The criticisms which 
follow do not appear in precisely the form in which they 
arc given in the works of any ethical writer. They are all, 


nevertheless, such as the utilitarians might have brought, 
and many are such as they did in fact bring, against 
theories which base ethics upon the deliverances of an alleged 
moral sense. 


(i) That it is Impossible to Separate an Action from its 
Consequences. I have already tried to show that, unless 
our sense of duty and our moral judgments are conceived 
to be at least in part rational, it is extremely difficult to 
establish their claim to freedom; if, on the other hand, they 
contain any admixture of reason, they cannot but take into 
account the consequences of actions. The fact that they 
do and must do so was one which the utilitarians frequently 
emphasized. You cannot, they said in effect, judge a 
person's character if it does not express itself in actions, 
while, the actions in which it expresses itself cannot, if 
considered apart from their consequences, be regarded 
as either moral or non-moral. Actions divorced from their 
consequences are, in fact, ethically negligible. What 
ground, for example, could there be for objecting to drunk- 
enness, if it did not make a man arrogant in manner, halt- 
ing in gait, thick in speech, sodden in mind, and disgusting 
in habit? If the traditional drunkard did not beat his wife, 
his wife would not mind his drinking. What, again, is the 
objection to cruelty unless it produces suffering in its 
object? For the notion of cruelty includes the suffering of 
its object. 

The more closely the matter is examined, the more 
difficult does it become to see how a distinction can be 
drawn between an act and its consequences. Where, in 
fact, does the act end and the consequences begin? An act 
is a happening in the natural world; regarded from the 
point of view of the physical sciences it consists in the 
alteration of the position in space of one or more pieces 
of matter. That this is so with regard to actions which are 


ethically neutral is, I think, sufficiently clear. If I dig 
a trench, I am altering the position of my feet and arms, 
of a spade and of a certain quantity of soil. If I take a match- 
box from my left-hand pocket and put it into my right- 
hand pocket, I am altering the position in space of my 
hand and arm and also of the match-box. I am also, pre- 
sumably, displacing a certain quantity of air. Such 
acts are ethically neutral ; they are neither right nor wrong. 

Now let us suppose that I take as an example an act 
which would normally be regarded as an appropriate 
object for moral judgment. The act which I am proposing 
to consider is the forging of a cheque. Considered purely 
as an act, the forging of a cheque consists in a number 
of movements by the arm, hand and fingers, and the 
resultant alteration of the position in space of a pen and 
a certain quantity of ink. Now it is certainly not of these 
movements and of this alteration that it would be said 
we are judging when we judge that forgery is wrong. 
Of what then? Presumably, of the consequences of the 
movements I have described. These include the making 
over to oneself of money to which one is not legally en- 
titled, and the possible loss to others of money to which 
they are entitled, entailing consequential deprivation and 
suffering. Now these consequences certainly form a part 
of what we mean by forgery when we say that forgery is 
wrong. For, if forgery did not include them, if it were simply 
a series of physical movements, it would not be forgery; at 
any rate, it would not be morally blameworthy as forgery. 
And since forgery undoubtedly is morally blameworthy, 
being reprobated by the morad consciousness of civilized 
mankind, it would appear that forgery must be taken to 
include some at least of what would normally be called its 

Some, but not all. For among the consequences of suc- 
cessful forgery may be its emulation by others. Hence 
when we condemn an act of forgery, one of the considera- 
tions which influence our judgment may well be the effects 
upon society, if forgery became a common practice. ' We 


cannot/ we might say, 'let this case pass unrcproved and 
unpunished, because, if we did, others might take heart 
of example and try to do the same thing; and if they did, 
and tried successfully, the banking system would break 

Thus it is dearly not the case, except perhaps in a remote 
metaphysical sense, .that all the consequences of an act of 
forgery are comprehended in our judgment of condemna- 
tion, when we judge a particular case of it to be wrong. 
Some, at least, of the consequences are regarded as being 
separate from the act, and our disapproval of these is not 
the same as our disapproval of the act. 

(2) That it is Impossible to Separate an Action from 
its Motives. Just as an action upon which we propose 
to pass moral judgment cannot be separated from some at 
least of its consequences, so it cannot be separated from its 
motives. For, if the act be strictly regarded as being what, 
from the physical point of view, it in fact is an alteration 
of the position in space of pieces of matter and if it be 
argued that it is not about the movements of matter that 
we believe ourselves to be judging, it is difficult to resist 
a further extension of the object of our judgment, difficult 
to exclude from its scope the motive from which the move- 
ments sprang. 

The reasons for this further extension are as follows. In 
the first place, it is, I think, clear that we do not as a general 
rule morally judge involuntary actions. If, for example, 
a man forged a signature in his sleep, we should probably 
withhold moral condemnation. We might perhaps in some 
circumstances condemn forgery by a lunatic, but it is 
forgery by a sane and free person which is really the object 
of moral reprobation. Again, if a man's action in forging, 
though voluntary, was performed under duress, while, for 
example, a pistol was being pointed at his head, we should 
almost certainly admit extenuating circumstances. Even 
if the forgery were done freely and deliberately, we should 
judge it less harshly, if the intention of the act were to 



obtain money to feed a starving family, than we should do, 
if the forger's object were merely to obtain increased 
opportunities for the gratification of his senses and appe- 
tites. Considerations of motive, then, affect our judgments 
of actions. 

What, then, is a motive? A motive may plausibly be 
analysed into an act of will coupled with a judgment of 
expected consequences. I will, in other words, to do so and 
so because I expect such and such consequences to result 
from my doing so and so, and wish to bring these conse- 
quences about. Now the act of will, the expectation 
and the wish are all psychological events; they all occur 
in my mind. How events in the mind are transformed into 
bodily acts we do not know, since the nature of the rela- 
tion between mind and body is itself unknown. Unless, 
however, we adopt a materialist philosophy, in which 
case, as I tried to show in the last chapter, the study of 
ethics may be dismissed as irrelevant, 1 we shall be justified 
in saying that acts of will do in some sense cause bodily 
movements. It is because, to take an example, I have first 
resolved to raise my left arm, that certain movements occur 
in the nerve cells of my brain; these cause other movements 
in the motor nervous system wty ch governs the movements 
of my limbs and, as a consequence, my left arm raises itself 
in the air. 

Willing and acting, therefore, are not two separate 
events; they resolve themselves on analysis into a chain of 
causally linked movements, each movement in the chain 
being die effect of the preceding movement and the cause 
of the succeeding, the earlier movements in the chain being 
called psychological and the later physiological. Now the 
earlier movements in the chain were those which we identi- 
fied with what is commonly called motive. The conclusion 
seems to be as follows: the attempt to draw a line at some 
point across the chain with the object of consigning the 
events that fall on one side of the line to the category of 
what is called the motive, and those upon the other to the 
1 See Chapter VII, p. 297. 


category of what is called the action, as a preliminary to 
declaring that the motive is the cause of the action and 
deducing that what we are judging about when, for 
example, we condemn forgery is an action and not a 
motive, or is an action rather than a motive, is impractic- 
able, and the theory which entails it untenable. 

That the True Object of Moral Judgment is a Situation 
Considered as a Whole. If at this point I may be 
permitted to intrude an opinion of my own, I should say 
that any attempt to restrict the scope of the purview of 
moral judgment, whether to motive, to act or to conse- 
quences, is bound to fail. What we are judging about when 
we judge morally is a whole situation of which motive, act 
and consequences all form parts. Within this whole situa- 
tion we must also include the circumstances in which the 
act was performed, the temptations to which the agent was 
exposed, the heredity, the physiological constitution, the 
psychological disposition, the training, and the environ- 
ment of the agent, the consequences which he expected 
to follow from his act, the consequences which, in the light 
of the facts known to him at the time, he was reasonably 
justified in expecting to follow, and the consequences 
which did in fact follow. 

I do not, of course, wish to suggest that all these factors 
are actually taken into account when we morally judge. I 
am asserting only that all are relevant, that it is difficult, 
if not impossible, to separate one set of factors from another, 
that all would, therefore, be taken into account in an ideally 
perfect moral judgment, and that quite a number actually 
are taken into account on occasions when moral judgments 
are made. I would add, further, that the more enlightened 
the person judging, the more of these factors would he 
regard as relevant to his consideration before delivering 
judgment. A humane and enlightened 'man is one who 
takes into account heredity, circumstance and training 
and allows for the peculiar attraction of a particular 
temptation to one so circumstanced and trained. Even 


if; for him, tout comprtndr* is not tout pardonntr, he will at 
least insist on the greatest possible amount of under- 
standing as a preliminary to pardoning whenever he can. 
To return to our argument, it is clear that, if there is 
any force in the foregoing considerations, a strict Intui- 
tionism which concentrates its attention upon actions and 
accepts direct intuitions as to their lightness and wrongness 
as a sufficient guide to morality is untenable. Such a 
view is an unduly simple one, and in practice too often 
issues in judgments which are harsh, unsympathetic and 

The Motive School of Intuitionism. It must not be 
supposed that the above considerations have occurred 
solely to the author, or that they have not been stressed 
in one form or another by many writers upon ethics, 
including those who have in general been disposed to 
adopt some form of Intuitionism. Many writers, indeed, 
have insisted that the motive of an action is the main 
factor to be taken into account in determining its lightness 
or wrongness. Bishop Butler, for instance, whose views 
I have already considered, maintained that "the right* 
ness or wrongness of an act depends very much upon the 
motive for which it is done**. 

The advantage of insisting upon the importance of 
motive lies, from the intuitionist point of view, in the 
answer which the "motive" school of Intuitionism is 
enabled to offer to the criticisms just outlined. The effect 
of these criticisms was to demonstrate the impossibility 
of divorcing an act from its consequences and they bore, 
therefore, most heavily upon that form of Intuitionism 
which suggests that it is possible to pass moral judgments 
upon actions without taking their consequences into 
account "The effects of our actions cannot," said Kant, 
"give them moral worth/ 9 But they can and must do so, if 
the action includes some at least of its effects. To meet this 
criticism, the intuitionist, while agreeing that motive, 
act and consequences cannot be divorced from one 


another, while conceding that they are not isolated occur- 
rences, but are related factors in a single whole, points 
out that the moral sense, in approving actions which are 
done from a good motive) is also bestowing its approval 
upon actions which are expected to produce good con- 

This is the line which is taken by Professor Muirhead 
in his book, The Elements of Ethics. So far as an action is 
really planned and voluntary, the motive to perform it 
must, Professor Muirhead points out, contain an idea of 
the consequences expected therefrom, and, inasmuch as 
it inevitably points forward to those consequences and 
takes its shape and quality from them, it cannot be judged 
apart from diem. When, therefore, the moral sense passes a 
judgment of approval on actions done from a good motive, 
it is not judging about motive or action divorced from conse- 
quences, but includes in its scope the end towards which 
the motivated action is directed, from the nature of which 
end the motive takes its colour. In affirming, in short, that 
the motive which leads people to torture animals is bad, 
the moral sense is influenced mainly by the result of the 
action in question, namely, the pain experienced by the 
victims of the torture; its reasoning, presumably, is that 
the motive of an act which is expected to produce pain 
derives its nature from the consequences it contemplates, 
and is, accordingly, a blameworthy motive. 

Consequences Immediate fln ^ Ultimate* Intended 
Actual. At this point Intuitionism approaches very 
dose to Utilitarianism. The intuitionist says that a right 
action is one which is done from a good motive, and a 
good motive is a motive which aims at the production of 
certain desirable consequences. The utilitarian affirms 
that a right act is one which produces happiness 1 and 
praises, therefore, those characters or dispositions which 
naturally resuh in the performance of such actions. Thus 
Sidgwick (1838-1900), the most authoritative writer on 
1 Sec Chapter IX, p. 293. 

'294 ETHICS 

utilitarian ethics, says "the Utilitarian will praise die 
Dispositions or permanent qualities of character of which 
felicific conduct is conceived to be the result, and the 
motives that are conceived to prompt it, when it would 
be a clear gain to the general happiness that these should 
become more frequent '. 

When the intuitionist insists that motive cannot be 
judged apart from the consequences which the action 
proceeding from the motive is intended to produce, the 
ultimate or final consequences of the action are those which 
are meant. These must be distinguished from the immediate 
consequences, although these are in an equal degree 
intended and expected. Thus, if a dentist uses a drill to 
stop a tooth, the immediate expected consequences are 
painful and unpleasant, although the ultimate expected 
consequences are beneficial. When the moral sense approves 
the motive of the dentist's action as taking its colour from 
the aim the dentist sets before himself, it is the expected 
ultimate consequences which constitute the reasons for 
its approval, not the immediate painful ones. Yet the 
immediate painful consequences are equally expected and 
equally intended. In order to T^a^t^ this distinction, 
some writers distinguish between motive and intention, 
defining a motive as that for the sake of which an action 
is done, whereas, an intention includes both that for the 
sake of which and that in spite of which an action is done. 
Intention is therefore wider than motive, and of the total 
amount of the intended consequences, only those for the 
sake of which the action is done form the subject of 
moral approval or disapproval. 

If it is important to distinguish between immediate and 
ultimate consequences, it is no less important to distinguish 
between intended and actual consequences. 1 The conse- 
quences which the motive school of Intuitionism is pre- 
pared to take into account are the intended, not the 
actual consequences. If the intended consequences are 

1 See Chapter IX, pp. 314-316 for an account of the significance of 
this distinction. 


good, but the actual consequences are bad, then the 
intuitionist would still approve of the action, provided 
that the agent could, in the light of the data at his disposal, 
be considered to be reasonably entitled to expect good 
consequences to accrue from it. This insistence upon 
intended consequences affords a dear line of demarcation 
between any form of Intuitionism and the utilitarian view 
of ethics to be considered in the next chapter which 
regards the actual consequences, whether intended or not, 
as those which are relevant to our estimation of the moral 
worth of actions* 

(3) That the Deliverances of the Moral Sense are 
Arbitrary, Changing and Inconsistent. 

To resume our criticism of Intuitionism, the strongest 
and the most frequently urged objection to intuitionist 
theories directs attention to the nature of the deliver- 
ances of the moral sense. They are, it is pointed out, con- 
flicting, capricious and arbitrary. They are relative to 
time, place and circumstance, and are, it is obvious, 
frequently inspired and dictated by non-ethical considera- 
tions. Although there may be a kind of vague consensus 
of opinion among most people in most periods of the 
world's history with regard to certain classes of actions 
there is, for example, a fairly general disapproval of 
lying there is almost invariably the greatest possible dis- 
agreement between people's intuitions in regard to particular 

As with the moral sense of individuals, so with that of 
communities. The moral public opinion of a community 
is not only capricious and arbitrary; it is also inconsistent 
with the moral public opinion of another community. 
Not only does the moral sense of different peoples pass 
contradictory judgments upon the same action at the same 
time, but die moral sense of the same communities, 
instead of being fixed, definite and infallible, as supporters 
of the intuitionist theory are inclined to suggest, passes 
different judgments upon the same action at different 


times. The Greek historian Herodotus observes that, while 
fires burn up ward* in all parts of the world, people's notions 
of right and wrong -are everywhere different, whence the 
stability of natural and the mutability of moral phenomena 
are inferred. Canon Rashdall estimates that "there is 
hardly a vice or a crime (according to our own moral 
standard) which has not at some time or other in some 
circumstances, been looked upon as a moral and religious 
duty. Stealing was accounted virtuous for the young 
Spartan, and among the Indian caste of Thugs. In the 
ancient world Piracy, i.e., robbery and murder, was a 
respectable profession. To the mediaeval Christian religious 
persecution was the highest of duties, and so on". In 
certain Greek States the exposure of unwanted infants 
was regarded as a moral and patriotic act. What- 
ever degree of social good such a measure may have 
conferred upon the States in question, it may be doubted 
whether it was conducive to the happiness of either the 
mothers or of the infants, and our own moral sense clearly 
condemns it. 

Illustration from Persecution of Witchcraft. The 
burning of witches was in the Middle Ages regarded as 
a highly moral, even a religious act: it was also defended 
on moral grounds by many writers of the time, yet 
the consequences clearly involved unhappiness for the 

The persecution of witchcraft affords so striking an 
example of changing moral standards, that I propose to 
devote a little space to a consideration of its significance. 
In a province of Germany about the size of Wales, during 
a period of about seventy-five years in the latter part of 
the fifteenth and early part of the sixteenth centuries, it 
is estimated that over a quarter of a million women were 
burnt as witches. In many villages it was impossible to 
find a single woman alive of over forty years of age. The 
provision of the necessary tar, pitch and faggots became 
after a time so burdensome a tax on the village exchequers 


that in some cases burning at the stake had to be aban- 
doned, and roasting in an oven was substituted. Ovens, it 
is obvious, were more economical, since one oven would 
serve for an indefinite number of witches. 

The question inevitably arises, on what grounds these 
women were accused and condemned. Nobody, it is to 
be presumed, had seen them passing through key-holes, 
riding on broom-sticks, or indulging in intercourse with 
the Devil. They were, it appears, in every case condemned 
on their own confession. All these things they said that 
they had done, and they said that they had done them 
because they were tortured and retortured, until they 
reached a pitch of suffering at which they preferred being 
roasted to death in an oven to further torture. One woman 
was tortured and retortured in this way on fifty-six separate 
occasions. During torture, each woman was pressed to 
name her accomplices, and in hope of obtaining some 
remission of her agony, this she invariably did. Thus each 
accused became a little centre of infection from which fresh 
accusations, tortures and confessions spread out in every 

According to the moral consciousness of the twentieth 
century this procedure was an offence both against good- 
ness and against truth. Yet it was unhesitatingly approved 
by the moral opinion of the times. So far as morality was 
concerned, the authorities who accused, tortured and 
condemned the witches appear to have acted from motives 
of the most creditable kind. Their conviction was, that 
women who were tortured on earth would be less tor- 
tured hereafter in hell. An earthly fire was no doubt 
painful, especially if slow, but it was not so painful as an 
infernal one, and even the slowest oven that ever roasted 
did in fact make an end of its roasting in time, whereas 
in hell one burned for ever. It was, therefore, with the 
object of diminishing the amount of suffering which the 
alleged witches would otherwise undergo that these 
appalling torments were inflicted. So far as the offence 
against' truth is concerned, it would not be generally 



admitted in the twentieth century 1 that confessions extorted 
by the infliction of gross physical agony can be regarded 
as trustworthy evidence. 

(4) That Consequences Must, therefore, be Taken into 

We may express these conclusions by saying that the 
twentieth century has a more developed conception of 
what constitutes evidence than the sixteenth, and that 
it has a more enlightened conception of what constitutes 
humane conduct. Many people would, that is to say, 
refuse to-day to regard the infliction of gross physical 
agony on a sentient being as being morally justifiable, 
whatever the end in view. This at least is true of what 
might be termed advanced moral opinion. But why does 
advanced moral opinion disapprove of the infliction of 
torture, whatever the end in view? Clearly, because of 
the suffering which torture involves. Advanced moral 
opinion, in other words, condemns torture because of its 
consequences; and it condemns the consequences of tor* 
ture because they are inimical to human happiness. Both 
these condemnations entail, as we shall see in the next 
chapter, a utilitarian theory of morals. 

Now it is the fact that the moral sense has, during the 
recorded period of human history, so frequently approved 
of actions whose consequences were in the highest degree 
disagreeable, that constitutes, in the view of the utilitarians, 
which is also the view of most enlightened people to-day, 
one of the most serious counts in the indictment against 
moral sense theories. Many people, in other words, hold 
that the fact that actions of which the moral sense has 
historically approved have produced gross unhappiness, 
and the farther fact that they Could have been known to 

1 It is perhaps open to question whether this statement does not 
csJl for qualification. It could have been made with some safety, so 
far as Europe was concerned, prior to 1914. The history of post-war 
Europe, however, seems to show that torture is again coming into 
favour as a means of discovering "truth." In its report for 1936-37, 
the Howard League for Penal Reforms speaks of the growing use of 
torture to obtain evidence, especially from political prisoners. 


be likely to produce unhappiness at the time of the passing 
of the judgment of moral approval upon them, affords a 
strong presumption for rejecting a theory which insists 
that the passing of a judgment of approval by the moral 
sense is in itself a sufficient criterion of the morality of 
an action. One further objection remains to be noted. It 
often happens that when the moral sense of a particular 
person has approved of an action and declared it to be 
right, the moral sense of the same person or persons 
presently disapproves of the consequences of the action 
on the ground that they are bad. Now the fact of one 
judgment being passed about the consequences of an 
action while a contrary judgment is passed about the 
action itself, taken iir conjunction with the difficulty 
attending the attempt to divorce an action from its conse- 
quences, forces us to the conclusion that the same wholes, 
wholes, that is to say, which include both actions and 
consequences, are being at the same time made the objects 
of judgments of approval and of disapproval by the moral 
sense, and are, therefore, at the same time both right and 
wrong, good and bad. This conclusion must surely be 
false. The fact that it is logically entailed by the position 
under consideration suggests that the mere passing of a 
judgment by the moral sense, whether upon an action or 
its consequences, is not in itself sufficient to establish the 
lightness or wrongness of the action. 

(5) That some Moral Judgments are Trivial and 

I have spoken so far of those judgments of the moral 
sense which may be impugned on the ground that they are 
self-contradictory or are deleterious to happiness. Other 
judgments are open to criticism on the ground that they 
are arbitrary, trivial or ludicrous. Thus our Victorian 
ancestors insisted on swathing the legs of their grand 
. pianos on the ground that, being legs, they were neces- 
sarily indecent The monks on Mount Athos carried the 
early Christian prejudice against the female sex to such 

300 * ETHICS 

lengths that they devoted much time and labour to devising 
a method for producing eggs without keeping hens. The 
Aztecs believed that the light of the sun would grow 
dim, unless priests fed regularly upon human flesh. Ajumba 
hunters abjectly apologize to the hippopotamuses they have 
killed, and, when guilty of crimes, believe that they can 
transfer their guilt to a goat. Some peoples believe that 
only prostitutes can serve God; others that fornication is 
bad; others that it is good, but not for the crops. One race 
has no word in its language for chastity and cannot under- 
stand what it means; another knows what it means, but 
regards it as something which is evil and which is to be 
avoided if possible. One race holds that painted toes are 
an offence to the god of the tribe; another, that the Deity 
is outraged if the shins and knees of women are allowed 
to appear in His house. A list of these apparent absurdities 
could be continued indefinitely. Their cumulative effect 
is to lend support to the conclusion that the deliverances 
of the moral sense are frequently too trivial, arbitrary and 
contradictory in their nature to form a reliable criterion of 
right and wrong. As they are constantly changing, they 
involve the assumption that an action which is right in 
one age is wrong in another; as they are frequently contra* 
dictory, they involve the assumption that the same action 
is often both right and wrong at the same time. 

Recapitulation. The conclusion of this line of argument 
may, then, be summarized as follows. The view which is 
under consideration maintains that the sole arbiter of 
right and wrong is the. moral sense, and that the judgments 
of approval and disapproval which it delivers ip regard 
to actions and characters constitute the sole and sufficient 
guide to moral worth; These deliverances, being of the 
nature of direct intuitions, do not need the support of 
reason, though they can, it is maintained, generally manage 
to give a good account of themselves, if called to the 
bar of reason. In criticism of this view it is urged that the 
judgments of the moral sense are neither unanimous nor 


infallible. Intuitions, if .they are to lay claim to our respect 
on the score of validity, and are not to be dismissed as the 
mere deliverances of irresponsible instinct, should be 
both. Not even with regard to classes of actions does the 
moral sense deliver itself in unmistakable terms. Spartan 
children were taught to steal; chastity was unknown among 
the Turks, truth among the Cretans. 

Far from unanimous in regard to . classes of actions, 
the deliverances of the moral sense are often chaotic in 
their application to particular actions. In this connection 
it is significant that, where people do differ in their judg- 
ments of the morality of particular actions, or communities 
in their estimates of the morality of particular modes of 
conduct, it is always by an appeal to the consequences of 
the action or conduct in question that one party invokes 
superiority for its own judgment. 






The Moral Sense Related to Social Need. But the 
moral sense view is not so readily to be disposed of fes these 
arguments might at first sight suggest. Attempts are made 
to show that the deliverances of the moral sense are not 
as irresponsible as they appear, by pointing to the fact 
that they arc usually directed to the preservation of the 
social structure and the promotion of the welfare of the 

This view, that the moral sense has a social reference, 
clearly embodies an important truth. It rightly points 
out that morality does not and cannot be expected to 
consist in obedience to an unchanging code of rules, if 
only because the communities whose conduct morality 
governs are not themselves unchanging. Thus the deliver* 
ances of the moral sense vary in different societies, because 


societies Are differently constituted and have different 
needs. Morality Which, to use a phrase of Professor 
Muirhead's, contains a "quality of social tissue" reflects 
these needs, and, since the needs vary, morality varies 
with them. In general, the morality of any society will 
prescribe as right and fitting whatever conduct contributes 
to the maintenance of that society and the promotion of 
its welfare. Not only do the needs of a society vary, the 
functions of individuals vary in that society. Each individual 
has a definite rdle to play and a definite status to maintain in 
the society to which he belongs. To this rdle and to this 
status his duty is relative. Hence what is right and fitting 
for one individual will be wrong and unfitting for 
another. It follows that individual morality cannot be 
considered apart from the place of the individual in the 
society to which he belongs, the functions which he per- 
forms in the society, and the structure and needs of the 

That Morality Evolves and Progresses. Now societies 
evolve. Therefore the moral sense whose deliverances 
are, on this view, relative to their needs and conduce 
to their preservation evolves and progresses with them. 
The teaching of history shows that it has in fact done so. 

The traditional moral customs of the barbarians and 
early Greeks become the highly elaborate and rational 
morality of the Greek philosophers. The general principles 
laid down in the Ten Commandments are particularized 
in the Book of the Covenant. The somewhat primitive and 
vindictive morality which animates the heroes of the 
Old Testament is refined into the highly spiritualized 
moral code of the Sermon on the Mount. 

It would be superfluous to multiply instances. The 
process by which society becomes more complex and 
moral codes more elaborate is sufficiently obvious. Nor 
is the change only in the direction of greater elaboration. 
People to-day are, it is said, kinder, more sympathetic, 
more sensitive to suffering in others, than at any previous 


time in history. On these lines, then, an endeavour is 
made to preserve the authority of moral judgments in 
spite of the admitted fact that they are relative, relative, 
that is to say, to the needs and circumstances of society; 
in spite of the fact, therefore, that they reveal themselves 
as being in the long run determined by what appear to 
be non-ethical considerations. The point of the argu- 
ment is that the admission that moral judgments are 
relative does not justify us in concluding that they are not, 
therefore, binding. To admit that they were not binding 
would be to undermine the whole basis of 'the objective 
intuhionist position. "It is because", says Professor Muir- 
head, " morality is always and in all places relative to 
circumstances, that it is binding at any time and in any 


(A) That the Continuance of a Society is Not 
Necessarily a Good 

The questions raised by the foregoing argument 
go far beyond the confines of ethics and cannot 
be adequately discussed in this book. For what precisely 
does the argument entail? The moral sense has been 
charged with being arbitrary and capricious. It is neither* 
the argument contends, for its deliverances are relative 
to the needs of society, and are consequently such as 
are conducive to the maintenance of society. 

But why, we may ask, should societies be maintained? 
Or rather, why should it be taken for granted that any 
and every society should be maintained? Some societies 
are good, others bad. Hence, while that which is conducive 
to the maintenance of a good society is itself good and 
worthy to be trusted, that which conduces to the main- 
tenance of a bad society is bad and ought to be rejected. 
It is difficult, for example, to believe that the moral sense 
of the ruling class of pre-revolutionary France, which was 
relative to the maintenance of a society based on property 


and privilege for the few and poverty and injustice for 
the many, whose deliverances reflected and supported 
a civic code which .sanctioned this same property and 
privilege, which enforced this same poverty and injustice 
it is difficult, I say, to maintain that the deliverances of 
such amoral sense were based upon an accurate judgment of, 
and a nice discrimination between objective right and wrong. 

A communist would inevitably take the same view of 
a moral sense which was commended to his respect on the 
ground that its deliverances tended to support societies 
which embody the capitalist, economic system. It is 
impossible in this connection to avoid reflecting upon the 
significance of the fact that most socialist political theory 
regards almost every form of society which has hitherto 
existed as a device for oppressing the mass of the people, 
and enabling the privileged few to maintain themselves 
on the fruits of the labour of others. Marx, for instance, 
regarded the State as an organization of the exploiting 
class for maintaining the conditions of exploitation that 
suit it, 1 and held that the moral sense of the proletariat 
was deliberately moulded and perverted by the capitalists 
into a readiness to accept those regulations and institutions 
which would secure to the latter the surplus value of the 
labour of the former. Those who adopt this view must 
necessarily regard the moral sense not as a force of progress, 
but as one of the most powerful instruments of oppression. 
The morality which is enjoined by the Christian religion 
is often singled out for special censure in this connection. 8 
It is charged with inculcating the Christian virtues of 
humility and contentment, because their observance by 
the poor makes for undisturbed possession by the rich. 

It is not necessary to subscribe to these extreme views 
as to the nature. of the State, the utility of Christianity 
to the rich, and its consequent popularization among the 
poor, to recognize that the value of any existing form of 
social organization is not sufficiently established to enable 

1 See Chapter XVII, pp. 683-685, for * development of this view* 
See Chapter XVII, pp. 672-676. 


us to claim validity for the deliverances of the moral sense, 
solely in virtue of the role which it plays in maintaining 
and supporting that form. It is clearly not enough, then, 
to show that morality has a social reference. 

that it is not, upholders of the theory reply, but 
societies evolve and progress and, since they do so, the 
moral sense evolves and progresses with them. It is 
at this point more particularly that we find ourselves 
faced with questions which, as I have already mentioned, 
take us beyond the confines of this book. The question 
which we are now asked to consider is, do societies 
progress or not? The answer to it involves (a) meta- 
physics, since we must know what we mean by progress 
and must have some view, therefore, as to the goal of 
human evolution; (b) ethics, since we must know what 
things are good; (c) politics, since we must know what 
sort of political organization is best calculated to embody 
and promote the things that are good; (d] biology, an- 
thropology, and history, since having surveyed the past 
of our species, we must be in a position to judge whether 
the societies which exist now do or do not on the whole 
embody more of the things that are good than the societies 
which have existed in the past, and whether contemporary 
political forms of organizations are or are not more likely 
to promote an increase of the things that are good than 
those which have existed in the past. 

To sum up in a single question the many questions 
that are involved, we have to ask whether, assuming that 
we know what we mean by "better", human life does in 
fact become "better". It is obviously impossible even 
to attempt to answer this question here, although some 
of the considerations involved, particularly those indicated 
under (b) and (c) above, form part of the enquiry to which 
this book is devoted. The most that I can hope to do is to 
offer a number of brief observations upon those of the 


issues involved which have a particular relevance to the 
topic which led us to concern ourselves with the subject, 
namely, the validity of the deliverances of the moral 
sense in the light of their admitted relation to the needs, 
their admitted conduciveness to the maintenance of a 

(B) That the View that Societies Progress is an Un- 
substantiated Dogma. 

It will be convenient to divide the observations that 
follow under four heads. 

PROGRESS. To the question, does human life grow better, 
there is no agreed answer. Every age would, I suspect, 
tend to answer it differently. Until the middle of the 
eighteenth century the conception of progress was com- 
paratively unknown. The Victorians, who were dominated 
by it, would have answered the question in a sense 
favourable to themselves. Shocked by the war and alarmed 
by the future, many of the most sensitive minds of our own 
generation would, I suspect, answer in a contrary sense. 

(ii) The evidence of history seems on the whole to tell 
in favour not of a law of continuing progress, but of cycles 
of progress and decay. Again and again human civilization 
has reached a certain point; but it has never passed beyond 
it. Presently it has slipped back, and an era of comparative 
barbarism has succeeded. One might almost be justified 
in taking the view that human life, capable of rising to a 
certain level, is incapable of transcending it, or even of 
maintaining itself for any period of time at the highest 
level which it is capable of reaching. This generalization 
is clearly controversial, and to support it is beyond my 
competence. For my part, I am sceptical as to die possi- 
bility of deducing any law of human development, whether 
cyclical or progressive, from the teaching of history. It 
is, however, impossible to avoid being impressed by the 


evidence accumulated in such a book as Oswald Spengler's 
The Decline of the West, in favour of the view that the major 
movements of history have been cyclical in character, so 
regularly do eras of stagnation, decay and relapse appear to 
follow eras of progress. 


us suppose that societies do evolve and progress, and that 
we know broadly what we mean by saying that they do. 
The question then arises, is the evolution, is the progress 
accidental or designed? Is it, in other words, the result of 
a series of happy chances, or is it the expression of an 
advancing evolutionary purpose? Can we in fact assign 
to the development of the human race an ideal end or 
goal, by reference to which we can claim an absolute 
validity for the judgments of the moral sense, on the 
ground that they are concerned to further the advance of 
the human race in the direction of an ever greater reali- 
zation of this ideal, and then deduce that this advance 
takes place in pursuance of a definite plan? 

The bearing of this question upon the issue we are 
discussing is obvious. If changes in society which appear 
to constitute an advance in the direction of an ideal, are, 
nevertheless, arbitrary and irresponsible, then the code of 
morality which supports them is equally irresponsible. 
Again, if the process which we know as social evolution 
does not involve an ethical advance, or if, though it does 
do so, the advance is accidental, then the deliverances of 
the moral sense which both support the stage of social 
evolution which has at any moment been reached, and 
conduce to the realization of a further stage, are them- 
selves devoid of that ultimate validity which a discernible 
and necessary relation to an evolutionary purpose can alone 
bestow, and morality becomes, in Professor Muirhead's 
words, "nothing but that kind of conduct which supports 
one or other of the accidental changes in the phantas- 
magoria of social forms" 

3<)8 * ETHICS 

Thus by recognizing that the moral sense is relative, we 
have transferred the whole burden of making good its 
claim to validity from the moral sense to the social structure 
to which it is relative. If progress in the direction of the 
realization of an ideal end can be observed in the evolution 
of society, and if this progress can be regarded in the 
light of the carrying out of a plan, or of the fulfilment of an 
evolutionary purpose, then a similar progress can be 
predicated of the deliverances of the moral sense which 
registers each stage in the advance of society with the 
mark of its approval. If, however, no such progress can 
be discerned, the moral sense will gain neither in significance 
nor in validity from the fact that it automatically confers 
approval upon conduct which tends to maintain existing 
social forms, and will be revealed merely as an instrument 
for bolstering up whatever form of social organisation 
happens to exist, an instrument which blindly lends its 
support to the bad as well as to the good. 

The questions here raised once again involve meta- 
physical issues, nor is there any agreement as to the answers 
which should be given to them. 

are agreed to answer them in a sense favourable to the 
notion of progress, progress, that is to say, in the realization 
of an ideal end, we cannot fail to be impressed by the 
weight of evidence in favour of the view that the moral 
opinions of most human beings are at any given moment 
inimical to such progress and, further, that they are in- 
imical just because they are relative and conducive to the 
maintenance of the existing codes and institutions of a 
society. Advance in moral, as in intellectual or aesthetic 
insight, is generally made in the teeth of the opposition 
of the contemporary public opinion of a society. 

Original creation in art, original thinking in morals or 
politics, original research in science, are the products not 
of masses of men organized in communities, but of the 


the minds of single men and women. Now, the fact that the 
thought in which the minds of the pioneers find expression 
is original, is bound to make it appear shocking and sub* 
versive to the conventional many. Inevitably it challenges 
vested interests in the thought of the present, unsettling 
men's minds, alarming their morals, and undermining 
the security of the powerful and the established. Hence the 
original genius is only too often abused as an outrageous, 
and often as a blasphemous, impostor. Heterodoxy in 
art is at worst rated as eccentricity or folly, but heterodoxy 
in politics or morals is denounced as propagandist wicked- 
ness, which, if tolerantly received, will undermine the very 
foundations of society; while die advance on current 
morality, in which the heterodoxy normally consists, is 
achieved only in the teeth of vested interests in the thought 
and morals it seeks to displace. Thus, while the genius 
in the sphere of art is usually permitted to starve in a garret, 
the genius in the sphere of conduct is persecuted and killed 
with the sanction of the law. An examination of the great 
legal trials of history from this point of view would make 
interesting reading. Socrates, Giordano Bruno, and Ser- 
vetus were all tried and condemned for holding opinions 
distasteful to persons in authority in their own day, for 
which the world now honours them. One of the best 
definitions of a man of genius is he who, in Shelley's words, 
"beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are 
the germ of the flower and fruit of latest time". To put the 
point biologically, the genius is an evolutionary "sport" 
on the mental and spiritual plane, designed to give con* 
scious expression to life's instinctive purpose. He represents, 
therefore, a new thrust forward on the part of life and 
destroys the prevailing level of thought and morals as 
surely as he prepares for a new one. The thought of the 
community as a whole presently moves up to the level 
from which the genius first proclaimed his disintegrating 
message, and we have the familiar historical spectacle 
of the heterodoxies of one age becoming the platitudes 
of the next. 


Inevitably, we hear only of the geniuses who "break 
through" and stamp their thought upon " the minds of 
men. But for every one who, in spite of opposition, suc- 
ceeds in imposing his original inspiration upon the mind 
of the race, there may have been, there probably have been, 
a dozen whom opposition has succeeded in stifling. 

The conclusion seems to be that the received moral 
judgment of any given society cannot be accepted as a true 
guide to morality, if only because it is frequently opposed 
to what in the light of history we recognize to have been a 
moral advance. 1 Just because received moral opinion 
reflects the needs and conduces to the stability of a society, 
it is liable to be ranged against change. Yet change there 
must be, if there is to be evolution and progress in morality. 
Unless, then, we are prepared to accept the view that a 
final and ultimate revelation of right and wrong has 
already been vouchsafed to a particular community, 
we cannot but conclude that there are occasions when 
the interests of morality are best served by a refusal to abide 
by the received standards of the time. 




(6) That if the Moral Sense is Feeling, its Deliverances 
are Subjective. To resume the general criticism of 
Intuitionism, any view which seeks to base morality 
upon feeling is exposed to the objection that the deliver- 
ance* of a moral sense so conceived will have a purely 
subjective reference. For feelings, it may be pointed out, 
are relative and private in a sense in which the deliver- 
ances of reason are objective and public. Hence 
feelings give no information except about themselves. If 
feelings only give information about themselves, informa- 
tion, that is to say, to the effect that such and such a feeling 

1 This is a point of view which J. S. Mill elaborated with great force. 
See Chapter XIV, pp. 529-596. 


is being entertained, they do not give information about 
the nature of those things external to themselves which 
they purport to report. In other words, feelings are not 
objective in their reference. On a previous page 1 1 elabor- 
ated in some detail the distinction between subjective 
and objective judgments, and pointed out that many 
judgments, particularly judgments of taste and feeling, 
which are objective in appearance, are, nevertheless, 
subjective in fact, since they only succeed in giving 
information about events occurring in the mind of the 
subject judging. But while feeling judgments are by their 
very nature subjective in the sense defined, the judgments 
of reason can always claim to be objective, even when 
they are wrong. Feeling judgments, in other words, only 
report the feelings of the judger and convey no informa- 
tion about anything external to the judger; judgments of 
reason do convey such information, or, at least, they may 
do so. Thus, if I say that 3 plus a equals 5, I am making 
a statement whose truth is apprehended by reason, and, 
provided that you are a normal human. being possessed 
of a reason, I can not only convey to you the truth ex- 
pressed by my judgment, but I can cause you to see that 
it is true. When you see that it is true, you will have the 
same experience as I am having when I see it If, however, 
when suffering from toothache I announce that my pain 
has a peculiar and distinctive quality, then all that I 
am conveying is that 1 am experiencing painful sensations 
which are unique but indescribable, and my statement 
will evoke no analogous experience in you. Indeed, unless 
you, too, have at sometime had toothache, the information 
conveyed by my statement* will have, for you, a purely 
formal meaning. You will understand what I say to the 
extent of knowing that I have suffered or am suffering, 
but you will not understand what it is that I have suffered 
or am suffering. 

In this sense, feeling judgments are private, and 
report something which has happened or is happening in 
1 See Chapter V, pp. 159-163. 

312 * ETHICS 

ourselves, while the judgments passed by reason are public 

and report what is external to ourselves. It follows that, 

if moral judgments are fundamentally judgments of 

feeling, they will tell us only about the feelings of those 

who make them. In so far as the person who makes the 

judgment does possess the feeling, all moral judgments 

are equally valid. They are equally valid, that is to say, 

in the sense that they tell us that the particular feelings 

which the judgment reports are being entertained. In 

so far, however, as they purport to do more than that, 

in so far as they claim to tell us that an action X really 

is wrong in itself, because the judger feels that it is wrong, 

they possess no authority. Furthermore, inasmuch as the 

contemplation of the action in question may produce 

an entirely different feeling in some other person, a feeling 

namely that X is right, the judgment that X is right will 

be equally valid as an account of the feelings evoked in 

this second person by the contemplation of action X, 

although it will not, any more than the first judgment, tell 

us anything about the real quality of X. If, therefore, the 

statement that X is wrong, or the statement that X is 

right, means simply that some person entertains a particular 

feeling towards X, and means no more than that, it is 

clearly possible, since different persons may at the same 

time entertain feelings of a contrary character with regard 

to X, far X to be both right and wrong at the same time. 

This conclusion is explicitly accepted by those who 

take a subjectivist view of morality. 1 My present concern 

is to establish the point that, if the moral sense is feeling 

or akin to feeling, morality cannot ever be more than 

purely subjective. 

Recapitulation, I began this chapter by considering 
the nature of the moral sense and summarizing the views 
of various ethical writers on the subject. This summary 
developed into a criticism of the doctrine of Objective 
Intuitionism. The criticism was (i) that if the moral sense 
*Sce Chapter X, pp. 351, 352. 


is feeling, its deliverances are almost certainly deter- 
mined by non-ethical factors, yet we have agreed that the 
admission of free will is essential to ethics. If it is reason, 
then it insists on taking into account the consequences of 
actions; and not only the consequences of actions but also 
the motive and the circumstance, the training, the heredity 
and the constitution of the agent. To this criticism I have 
added two more. (2) The deliverances of the moral sense 
are changing and capricious. If it is argued that they 
are not, therefore, arbitrary, since they support society, it 
is not, I suggested, clear that the maintenance of society is 
always a good; if it is said that societies progress, I have 
replied that this is a dogma which cannot be known to 
be true, while, even if it is true, the fact that societies 
progress does not suffice to endow the deliverances of the 
moral sense with authority, unless it can also be shown 
that societies progress as part of a plan, in accordance 
with a law, or in fulfilment of a purpose. Moreover, the 
moral sense which prevails at an existing level of the 
development of a society has often impeded progress to a 
new level. (3) Finally, if the moral sense is feeling, its 
judgments are subjective and only report events occurring 
in the biography of the judger; if reason then, as before, 
it insists on taking consequences into account. 


For an account of the views of the intuitionists see L. SKLBY 
BIGOB'S, British Moralists. 

ROGERS, A. K. Morals in Review, Chapters VIII and IX. 
SHAFTESBURY, ANTHONY. Inquiry concerning Virtue. 
Discussions of Intuitionism. 
MOORE, G. . Principia Ethica. 

SIDGWICK, HENRY. The Methods of Ethics. Books III and IV. 
RASHDALL, H. H. The Theory of Good and Evil. 
MILL, J. S. Utilitarianism. 
MUIRHEAD, J. H. The Elements of Ethics, especially Books II 

and V. 
HOBHOUSE, L. T. Morals in Evolution. 


Sidgwick, Bentham, John Stuart Mill 

Intended and Actual Consequences. Objective Utili- 
tarianism may be briefly defined as the view that the moral 
worth of an action must be assessed by reference to its 
consequences, the characteristic utilitarian assertion being 
that a right action is one which has the best consequences 
on the whole. According to one form of the theory these 
are the intended consequences; according to another they 
are the actual consequences. If the intended consequences 
are those which are meant. Utilitarianism has much in 
common with the form of Intuitionism, described in the 
last chapter, which asserts that the object of our moral 
judgments is motive, or that it must include motive, and 
that motive includes a view of the consequences which 
the agent expects to follow from the action which he is 
motivated to perform. 1 

Difficulties of the " Tf*tefy*<xJ Consequences " Form 
of \3t&tarianism. Between the form of Utilitarianism 
which looks to the intended consequences of an action and 
that which insists that the actual consequences are those 
which must be taken into account, there is, it is obvious, 
a considerable difference. Each form is exposed to certain 
difficulties. To the view that an action is right, if the 
consequences which the agent intended are good, if, that 
is to say, to adopt the language of intuitionist theory, it 
proceeds from a good motive, it may be objected that 
many actions which proceed from the best motives have 
1 Sec Chapter VIH, pp. 292-295. 


the most unfortunate consequences. As I pointed out in 
the last chapter, a plausible case may be made for the 
view that most of the harm which is done in the world 
is the result of the actions of well-meaning but ill-judging 
people. I cited the case of war as an example. Now it may 
reasonably be urged that there must be something wrong 
with a theory which requires us to regard as right, actions 
which produce such terrible consequences as those involved 
in the declaration and waging of a war, merely because 
the motives which lead people to fight in wars are such 
as we can respect. 

It might be and has been urged in reply that we can 
and should divide what purports at first sight to be a 
single moral judgment into two separate judgments; that 
we can and should pass one judgment on motive and 
another on the action which proceeds from the motive. 
On this basis, we should be entitled to pass a favourable 
judgment on the motive of the enthusiastic volunteer who 
goes to war to fight for right and freedom, but an un- 
favourable one on the resultant killing and maiming for 
which his action is responsible. But this expedient, plausible 
as it appears, will not do. For, as I pointed out in the 
last chapter, 1 the view that we can in this way limit the 
scope of our ethical judgments is not one that can be 
sustained. If, as I hope to have shown, we cannot judge 
about actions in themselves, we cannot judge about motives 
in themselves, and, it may be, we cannot even judge 
about consequences in themselves. That which in fact 
constitutes the object of our moral judgments, is, I have 
suggested, 8 a whole situation of which motive, acts and 
consequences are all integral parts. 

Difficulties of the "Actual Consequences" Form of 
Utilitarianism. The view that the lightness of an act 
depends upon its actual consequences, which has been on 
the whole the predominant utilitarian view, also leads to 
anomalous results: two may be mentioned. First, if this 
fSce Chapter VIII, pp. a8$-agi. *See Chapter VIII, pp. 291, 094. 


Sidgwick, Bentham, John Stuart Mill 

Intended and Actual Consequences. Objective Utili- 
tarianism may be briefly defined as the view that the moral 
worth of an action must be assessed by reference to its 
consequences, the characteristic utilitarian assertion being 
that a right action is one which has the best consequences 
on the whole. According to one form of the theory these 
are the intended consequences; according to another they 
are the actual consequences. If the intended consequences 
. are those which are meant, Utilitarianism has much in 
common with the Form of Intuitionism, described in the 
last chapter, which asserts that the object of our moral 
judgments is motive, or that it must include motive, and 
that motive includes a view of the consequences which 
the agent expects to follow from the action which he is 
motivated to perform. 1 

Difficulties of the "Intended Consequences" Form 
of Utilitarianism. Between the form of Utilitarianism 
which looks to die intended consequences of an action and 
that which insists that the actual consequences are those 
which must be taken into account, there is, it is obvious, 
a considerable difference. Each form is exposed to certain 
difficulties. To the view that an action is right, if the 
consequences which the agent intended are good, if, that 
is to say, to adopt the language of intuitionist theory, it 
proceeds from a good motive, it may be objected that 
many actions which proceed from the best motives have 
1 See Chapter VIII, pp. 292-295. 


the most unfortunate consequences. As I pointed out in 
the last chapter, a plausible case may be made for the 
view that most of the harm which is done in the world 
is the result of the actions of well-meaning but ill-judging 
people. I cited the case of war as an example. Now it may 
reasonably be urged that there must be something wrong 
with a theory which requires us to regard as right, actions 
which produce such terrible consequences as those involved 
in the declaration and waging of a war, merely because 
the motives which lead people to fight in wars are such 
as we can respect. 

It might be and has been urged in reply that we can 
and should divide what purports at first sight to be a 
single moral judgment into two separate judgments; that 
we can and should pass one judgment on motive and 
another on the action which proceeds from the motive. 
On this basis, we should be entitled to pass a favourable 
judgment on the motive of the enthusiastic volunteer who 
goes to war to fight for right and freedom, but an un- 
favourable one on the resultant killing and maiming for 
which his action is responsible. But this expedient, plausible 
as it appears, will not do. For, as I pointed out in the 
last chapter, 1 the view that we can in this way limit the 
scope of our ethical judgments is not one that can be 
sustained. If, as I hope to have shown, we cannot judge 
about actions in themselves, we cannot judge about motives 
in themselves, and, it may be, we cannot even judge 
about consequences in themselves. That which in fact 
constitutes the object of our moral judgments, is, I have 
suggested, 1 a whole situation of which motive, acts and 
consequences are all integral parts. 

Difficulties of the "Actual Consequences" Form of 
Utilitarianism. The view that the lightness of an act 
depends upon its actual consequences, which has been on 
the whole the predominant utilitarian view, also leads to 
anomalous results: two may be mentioned. First, if this 
1 See Chapter VIII, pp. 289-991, * See Chapter VIII, pp. 291, 992. 

316 ' ETHICS 

view is correct, it may sometimes be our duty to do a 
wrong action. Thus, if I see a man drowning it will be 
my duty to try to save him seeing that, apart altogether 
from the demoralising effect of cowardice upon myself, 
the consequences of his being saved may, since life is 
assumed to be a good thing on the whole, be reasonably 
expected to be better than the consequences of his dying. 
If, however, he subsequently goes mad, beats his wife, 
and murders his children, the actual consequences of my 
act of rescue will have beeq bad. Therefore, I shall have 
done a wrong action, which it was, nevertheless, my duty 
to do. 

In the second place, as it is impossible to know all the 
actual consequences of any action, we can never tell for 
certain whether any action is right or wrong. Thus, although 
the utilitarian criterion of actual consequences provides 
a rough and ready test which serves the purposes of 
practical life, it is one which cannot, in practice, be applied 
with absolute certainty. This consideration does not, how- 
ever, invalidate the meaning which the utilitarians give to 
the term "right action". It is obvious that we may know 
what is meant by the phrase "the temperature of the 
room", without knowing what its temperature is; and it 
is logically perfectly conceivable that the correct meaning 
of the expression "right action" should be "an action 
which produces the best possible consequences", although 
we can never know for certain in regard to any particular 
action whether it is in fact right. 

That the Possession of Good Judgment is a Necessary 
Part of Virtue. This is not the place for a discussion of 
the respective merits of the two forms of utilitarian theory. 
One observation may, however, be permitted. It would, 
I think, be generally agreed that a well-meaning man 
who acts in such a way as to increase the happiness of 
his neighbours is ethically superior to an equally well- 
meaning man who habitually, or at any rate frequently, 
acts in such a way as to diminish it. To take an extreme 


example, a lunatic might feel convinced that the best 
way to maximize the happiness of mankind was to cut 
k the throats of all red-haired men with freckles. What is 
more, in order to realize his benevolent intentions he 
might} at considerable personal risk, actively take the 
steps which, in his view, might be expected to produce 
the desired increase of human happiness. Nevertheless, 
it is difficult to regard a lunatic inspired by this conviction 
as a really good man by any of the standards which are 
relevant to a judgment of moral worth. And the reason 
why we should refuse to give him full moral marks would 
be found in our conviction that his judgment as to the 
probable effects of his well-meaning actions on the 
human happiness which he wished to promote, was 

It seems to follow that good will and good intentions 
are not enough to enable a man to qualify as a virtuous 
man; we also expect him to show good judgment. Now 
good judgment entails a just appreciation of the probable 
consequences of the line of conduct which we are proposing 
to follow. We may, of course, be mistaken in our estimate 
through no fault of our own. For example, the circum- 
stances may be other than we had supposed, or even 
other than we had any right to suppose; again, all the 
data relevant to our judgment may not be available; 
it is conceivable that it may not have been possible to 
make them available; or, yet again, some sudden catas- 
trophe which there was no reason to expect, a fire, for 
example, or a flood, a volcano eruption or an earthquake, 
may make the consequences of an action other than we 
had anticipated or had a right to anticipate. Nevertheless, 
if, after having taken what would 'generally be con- 
sidered reasonable steps to obtain all the relevant data, 
and having further taken all these relevant data into 
account, one judges X to be a right action, having regard 
to the consequences that X seems to one to be likely to 
produc^, one is obviously entitled to a greater degree of 
moral credit, than if one had made such a judgment on 

318 ' ETHICS 

}pf\iffiri^nt data in circumstances in which one might, 
had one taken die trouble, have obtained sufficient data. 

Not only are we required to take trouble to obtain the 
data necessary for judgment; we are also required to 
judge adequately on the basis of the data. If on the basis 
of adequate data a man makes a foolish and obviously 
mistaken estimate of the probable results of an action he 
is proposing to take, he is, it would be generally agreed, 
not so morally praiseworthy as a man who, in similar 
circumstances, makes a, correct judgment. We here reach 
the conclusion which I have already endeavoured to 
establish in another connection, 1 namely, that it is not 
enough for the good man to have the will and the capacity 
to perform his duty; he is required also to know what his 
duty is. A man, in other words, is required to show good 
judgment in regard to moral issues no less than in regard 
to practical affairs. Now good judgment is no doubt in 
part the result of good training, and to the extent to 
which it is, its possession is one of those virtues which 
Aristotle calls virtues of character. 1 But although the 
formation of good judgment can be assisted by training 
and education, the initial capacity for judging accurately 
is a faculty implanted by nature. For good judgment is 
a product of a good native intelligence and this, like a 
good voice or a good eye at games, is part of our initial 
vital endowment. 

We must also concede to Aristotle that a good natural 
endowment in the matter of intelligence can not only 
be affected by environment and developed by education, 
but will be favourably affected by the best environment, 
will be fully developed by the best education. Our con- 
elusion is, thcp, that the man who is best qualified ac- 
curately to estimate the probable consequences of a given 
action will be one who both has a good native intelligence, 
and has been brought up in a suitable environment. 
. What do we mean by suitable? It is impossible to 
answer without begging questions. I shall return to this 

1 Sce Chapter VI, p. 214. Scc Chapter IV, pp. 104, 105. 


one and try to give a fuller answer as part of the 
general- theory of value which is contained in Chapter 
XII. 1 Let us, however, say provisionally that a suitable 
environment must be at once a. humane environment, so 
that a person who from birth has been subject to its 
influence will wish to prevent human suffering, and a 
sensitive environment, so that he will be quick to detect 
occasions for human suffering. In a word, the environ- 
ment must be civilized. 

Thus, when we judge an action to be right on the 
" intended consequences" theory, 'we are judging that it 
is such as a man will perform who desires to produce 
certain results which he believes to be good results, who 
is qualified by native endowment, by training and by 
education to make a reasonably accurate estimate of what 
the results of the action are likely to be, and, we must 
add, who takes the trouble to obtain all the data, or as 
many of them as are available, which are relevant to the 
making of such an estimate. 

The Element of Intelligence in Moral Worth. Two 
conclusions suggest themselves* The first is one at which 
we have already glanced. The proper object of ethical 
judgment is neither action, motive, nor consequences, 
but is a whole situation of which each of these forms a 
constituent part but which nevertheless extends beyond 
them, and which should ideally include a reference to 
such factors as natural endowment, training, education, 
environment, and willingness to take trouble to collect the 
data necessary for judgment, and to scrutinise it_ _ 
view to ensuring that the judgment will be^^^njfktg 
as possible. /&&&& 

Secondly, the more intelligent a man iffittfj&r* fully 
his natural faculties have 'been dc 
numerous the data which he has colic 
to his decision on a course of action, | 
will the consequences which he intends 
1 See Chapter XII, pp. 447 


to follow from, his action approximate to those which do 
in fact follow from it In other words, intelligence, training, 
and knowledge will go some way to ensure that intended 
consequences will coincide with actual ones. The con- 
clusion seems to be that in a society of ideally judging 
persons the difference between actual and intended 
consequences would tend to disappear. Meanwhile, in the 
degree to which a person or a society tends to approximate 
to this ideal limit, to that degree will the disparity between 
the consequences which are expected to follow from the 
actions of that person, or that society, and those which 
actually do follow from them, tend to disappear. At this 
point, then, a formula for ethical progress both in societies 
and in individuals suggests itself, some of the implica- 
tions of which I shall hope to develop in a later chapter. * 

Sidgwick on the Intuitions of Common Sense Morality. 
This preliminary discussion of the implications and diffi- 
culties of both the "actual" and the "intended" conse- 
quences types of utilitarian theory having been disposed 
of, we are in a position to proceed with the exposition of 
the theory. Before embarking upon it, however, I propose 
to try to mitigate the sharpness of the contrast which I 
have hitherto drawn between it and intuitionist theories. 
I have already pointed out that certain forms of Intuition- 
ism, by including within the scope of moral judgments 
the intended consequences of actions, tend to approximate 
to Utilitarianism. I have now to add that the utilitarians, 
for their part, are far from always rejecting intuitions. 

It should, in the first place, be clear in the light of 

the condnrion of the discussion in Chapter V* on the 

., subject of thewture of our recognition of ultimate values, 

that somt intuitions must be involved in those judgments 

of (he worth of consequences, by reference to which 

/itilitariaas bold that the lightness of actions ought to be 

assessed* For whatever the nature of the things which we 

judge to be ultimately valuable, our judgment must, I 

Sec Chapter XII, pp. 466-468. *See Chapter V, pp. 168-170. 


concluded; be in the last resort intuitive. I shall return 
to the significance of this point later. 1 In addition, how- 
ever, to the general intuitions of value which are entailed 
in any assessment of the worth of consequences, the more 
clearsighted of utilitarian writers have recognized that a 
number of other intuitions are involved in ethical judg- 
ments. Sidgwick's treatment of the subject affords a good 
example of such recognition. 

Sidgwick (1838-1900) is a utilitarian in the sense that 
he believes that the ethical value of an action is established 
by reference to its ability to promote agreeable and 
satisfied states of consciousness. He is also a hedonist in 
the sense that he believes happiness to be the only 
thing which is ultimately valuable, although he thinks 
that it is our duty to promote everybody's happiness 
equally, and not to give a preference to our own. In spite, 
however, of his general utilitarian standpoint, he maintains 
that our ethical judgments always involve some intuitions, 
and he is anxious to show what these are. In the course 
of his treatment he makes a number of valuable observa- 
tions on the morality of the ordinary man. This, he holds, 
is in the main intuitional. It is intuitional in the sense 
that certain intrinsic characteristics of actions are regarded 
by the commonsensc man as establishing the tightness or 
wrongness of those actions. Cruelty, in fact, in the view 
of common sense, is wrong, because it is cruelty; lying 
because it is lying. (This does not, of course, alter the fact 
that the ordinary man will often condone lying or cruelty 
in particular cases, and justify himself by an appeal to 
the consequences, which are then made the subject of 
another intuition. Thus lying, he holds, is permissible to 
save a life, cruelty- although he would not call it cruelty 
to discipline a character. The intuitions here entailed 
are that lives are worth while and ought to continue, and 
that strong characters are valuable and ought to be 

1 See Chapter XII, pp. 419-496. 

322 * ETHICS 

Conditions Governing the Acceptance of Ultimate Moral 
Principles. Sidgwick maintains that these intuitional 
judgments, which are unthinkingly passed by common- 
sense, point to the influence of certain ultimate moral 
principles upon men's minds. He is prepared to agree 
that there may be such principles and that they ought 
to be trusted for what court of appeal, he asks, can there 
be in ethics save, in the last resort, the popular conscious- 
ness? provided that they satisfy certain conditions. 
These conditions are that they must be clear; that they 
must be consistent among themselves; that there must 
be an unmistakable consensus of opinion among most 
normal people in their favour; and that they must not 
only seem to be self-evidently true, but continue to seem 
to be so on examination and reflection. 

Judged by the standard of these conditions, most 
commonsense intuitions about morals are, he finds, open 
to criticism on two counts* In the first place, the ordinary 
commonsensc man confuses his impulses of approval and 
disapproval with genuine moral intuitions. Thus the 
mother says to her child, "Don't be naughty", when all 
she means is "Don't be inconvenient to me personally"; 
the clergymen of countries at war maintain that the 
enemy is hateful, and justly hateful, to God, when all that 
they mean is, that the enemy is dangerous to the clergymen, 
their relations, their property, their flocks, and their coun- 
tries; elderly ladies consider that sex is shameful, when all 
that they mean is that it has passed them by. In short, most 
of the so-called moral judgments which most people pass 
are, on any view of ethics, subjective. 1 They are not, that 
is to say, judgments to the effect that a particular action 
has a certain quality; they merely report the fact that a 
certain person, the judger, is experiencing certain emotions 
of approval and disapproval. 

In the second place, many so-called intuitions about 
conduct are, Sidgwick holds, merely the reflection of the 

1 See Chapter V, p. 159, for an account of the tense in which this 
word is used. 


fashions of the age, of the conventions of the class, or of 
the needs of the society to 'which die judger happens to 
belong. That witches arc wicked and should be burned; 
that capitalists are wicked and should be dispossessed; 
that Germans are wicked and should be killed, are examples 
of such judgments passed respectively by the average 
citizen of the Middle Ages, by the average working-class 
Communist in 1937, and by the average Englishman in 
the years 1914-1918. These judgments would not, in 
Sidgwick's view, entail genuine moral intuitions about the 
nature of witches, capitalists and Germans. They belong 
rather to the category of what the twentieth century calls 
rationalizations- rationalizations, that is to say, of super- 
stitious fear, class hatred and national expediency. As we 
shall see in the next chapter, 1 it is quite possible to hold 
that all ethical judgments are of this type. 

Are there, on Sidgwick's view, any intuitions which 
satisfy the conditions that he has laid down? Are there, 
that is to say, any genuine moral principles whose truth 
is intuitively perceived? He mentions a number of which 
two are important. The first is the principle that, whatever 
good may be, the good of no one individual is of any 
greater or any less importance, than the equal good of 
another. The second is the principle that it is a man's 
duty to aim at good generally, and not at any particular 
part of it, for example, at that part of it which is his own 
happiness. From these two principles Sidgwick deduces 
what he calls the Principle of Rational Benevolence, 
namely, that it is no less a man's duty to try to produce 
good states of mind in other individuals than it is to 
produce them in himself, except in so far as he may have 
less power over other people's states of mind than he has 
over his own, or may feel less certain in their case than he 
is in his own what is good for them. These principles are 
implicit in the- writings of the utilitarians, and it is not 
difficult to detect the influence which, in the form of 
unconscious assumptions, they exert upon their theories. 
1 Sec Chapter X, pp. 373-382. 


Statement of Utilitarianism : The Meaning of the Term 
"Right Action 1 '. Utilitarianism is a perfectly clear and 
understandable doctrine and is capable of being stated in 
summary form. As expounded by those philosophers with 
whom its name is chiefly associated, it seeks to provide an 
answer to two questions* First, what do we mean by 
a right action? This it answers by saying that a right 
action is the one which, of all those which are open to 
the agent, has on the whole the best consequences. The 
reasons which the utilitarian adduces in support of this 
answer have already been incidentally mentioned in the 
course of the criticism of Intuitionism in the last Chapter, 
where I endeavoured to demonstrate the impossibility of 
separating the judgment of an action from the judgment of 
its consequences, if only because of the impossibility of 
isolating the action from its consequences. 1 Jeremy Bentham 
(1748-1832), who may be regarded as the founder of 
modern Utilitarianism, is particularly severe in his stric- 
tures upon the willingness evinced by so many of his 
predecessors to take some consideration other* than the 
consequences of an action into account, when judging 
its worth. 

That Happiness Alone is Good* The second question 
which Utilitarianism seeks to answer is the question, 
what consequences are valuable; and to this it answers 
that happiness is alone valuable. Combining the two 
answers we reach the result that, in the words of John 
Stuart Mill, "actions are right in proportion as they tend 
to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the 
reverse of happiness." When, therefore, a utilitarian wanted 
to know whether an action was right, all that he had to 
consider was its happiness-producing qualities; he then 
pronounced that action to be right which had the property 
of promoting happiness. This is the standard of "utility* 1 to 
which Bentham and his followers invariably appeal, 
when seeking to adjudge the moral worth of an action, 
1 See Chapter VIII, pp. 287-289. 


against what they regard as the arbitrary moral judgments 
of the intuitionist school. For, said Bentham in effect, 
there are only two alternatives to my view. The first is 
that we should say that unhappiness is good, and that 
an action is right, therefore, because it produces unhappy 
consequences. The second is that we should adopt the 
intuitionist standpoint and affirm that a right action is 
that for which a person happens to feel a sentiment of 
moral approval. This last view he denounces as being a 
principle either of tyranny or caprice, for it entails either 
that A is despotically to impose his judgment of moral 
approval upon B, which is tyrannical, or that there is to 
be no recognized standard of morality by reference to 
which we can determine which of a number of contra- 
dictory judgments of approval is to be preferred, morality 
being thus reduced to a chaos of conflicting opinions, 
among which the prejudice of irresponsible caprice is 
entitled to as much respect as the considered judgment of 
the sage. 

Ethical Philosophy of Bentham. Although Bentham's 
views are included in the ethical part of this book, 
his main interest was in politics. His most important work 
is entitled Fragment on Government, and he was interested in 
ethics only because he wanted to know by what means the 
springs of human conduct may be most effectively tapped 
by the legislator, in order to produce socially beneficial 
results. It is the practice of the legislator rather than the 
theorizing of the philosopher that interests him. "The art 
of legislation/' he writes, "teaches how a multitude of 
men composing a community may be disposed to pursue 
that course which upon the whole is the most conducive 
to the happiness of the whole community, by means of 
motives to be applied by the legislator. " Bentham was, 
indeed, little interested in private morality for its own sake. 
His interest lay in public happiness and the extent to 
which government could promote it. "Morality," he 
declared, "is the art of directing men's actions to the 


production of the greatest quantity of happiness, on the 
part of those whose interest is in view." At what point, 
he enquired, may a government whose object is the 
increase of public happiness legitimately interfere with 
the private individual? What, in fact, is the sphere of 
individual liberty, what of government interference, and 
where should the line be drawn between them? With these 
questions I hope to deal in Parts III and IV. 1 

I mention them here only because Bentham's political 
preoccupations may serve to discourage us from looking 
to him for what he has not to offer, namely, a subtle 
analysis of conduct forming the basis of a consistent ethical 
theory. This his follower, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), 
sought to provide, with what results we shall see below.* 
For the present, our concern is with Bentham's insistence 
that the basic principle of morals is what he calls the 
principle of "utility", which he states as follows. "By 
the principle of utility is meant that principle which 
approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever 
according to the tendency which it appears to have to 
augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose 
interest is in question." In other words, the criterion of 
the rightness of an action is to be found in the consequences 
of the action. Upon this view three observations may 
appropriately be made. 

First, the criterion envisaged for a right action is an 
objective criterion. It is not what any person or body of 
persons thinks or feels about an action which makes it right 
indeed, the thoughts or feelings of human beings are 
irrelevant when we are considering the rightness or 
wrongness of actions; what makes an action right is cer- 
tain happenings which are produced by, and follow from, 
the action. If these are of a certain kind, the action is 
right; if not, not. 

Secondly, it is clearly impossible, as I have already 
pointed out, that we should ever know all the consequences 

1 See Chapter XIV, pp. 525-527, and Chapter XIX, pp. 777-781. 
See pp. 334-342 below. 


of any action. Indeed, the total consequences of an action 
will presumably extend indefinitely into the future. It 
is therefore impossible that we should know in regard to 
any particular action whether it is absolutely and certainly 
right, since among those consequences of the action which 
have not yet been ascertained, or which have yet to occur* 
there may be consequences of such a kind as to necessitate 
a modification of any judgment which might be passed on 
the basis of existing information with regard to the action*. 
Thirdly, it is the actual consequences of actions and not 
their intended consequences which Bentham considers 
to be relevant to the judgment of their worth. Bentham is 
not always consistent on this point, yet his general view 
is sufficiently clear. It is that the actual concrete results 
of actions in terms of their effects upon individuals are 
what the legislator is required to take into account in 
deciding what kinds of conduct to encourage by his laws. 
This insistence upon the effects of actions upon the well- 
being of individuals constitutes Bentham's most dis- 
tiqctive contribution to ethical theory. Political formulas 
and ideals have no meaning for Bentham except in terms 
of their effects upon individuals. 

Bentham's Account of Virtue. What account does 
this theory enable Bentham to give of what is commonly 
called virtue? Virtue is, for him, simply the habit of 
endeavouring to secure happiness, whether for ourselves 
or for others and for Bentham, as I show below, 1 there 
is in the long run no difference between what will promote 
the greatest happiness of ourselves and the greatest happi- 
ness of others by means of our actions. Hie greater the 
effort a man brings to this endeavour and the* more fore- 
sight he shows, the more virtuous will he be. It is our 
duty, in other words, according to Bentham, to take 
thought as to the probable effects of our actions, and to 
do everything we can to ensure that these effects will be 

*See pp. 332, 333 bdow. 


It is of course the case, as I have already pointed out, 
that, having passed the most careful judgment that I can 
on the data available as to the probable effects of my 
action, I may nevertheless judge wrongly. Things, in fact, 
may turn out unexpectedly, so that an action from which 
I have every reason to anticipate the best possible results 
actually produces very bad results. In such circumstances 
it would, on Bentham's view, be my duty to perform a 
wrong action, since it would be my duty to perform the 
action which I had reason to think would have the best 
possible results, and the fact that the action in question 
had bad results and was, therefore, a wrong action 
would not affect this duty. 

That Happiness or Pleasure is alone Desirable as an 
End. I turn to the second main contention of the 
utilitarians that, when we are assessing the consequences 
of actions, only pleasure or happiness (the two words 
may be used synonymously) needs to be taken into account, 
since only pleasure is valuable. This maxim is laid down 
in a number of celebrated passages, of which I give three. 
The first is from Bentham: 

4 'Nature has placed man under the governance of 
two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them 
alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to 
determine what we shall do. . . . We owe to them all 
our ideas; we refer to them all our judgments, and all 
the determinations of our life. He who pretends to 
withdraw himself from this subjection knows not what 
he says." 

The second is from John Stuart Mil: 

"Desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to 
it and thinking of it as painful are phenomena entirely 
inseparable ... in strictness of language, two different 
modes of naming the same psychological fact: to think 
of an object as desirable (unless for the sake of its conse- 
quences), and to think of it as pleasant, are one. and the 
same thing; and to desire anything, except in proportion 


as the idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and metaphysical 

One more quotation from John Stuart Mill will clinch 
the matter: 

"Pleasure and freedom from pain, are the only things 
desirable as ends; and ... all desirable things . . . are 
desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, 
or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the pre- 
vention of pain." 

The effect of the two passages from Mill is to abolish 
the distinction which is commonly made between what is 
desirable and what is desired. Most people, I think, 
would distinguish between the meanings of these two 
words broadly as follows. They would say that while 
many things were desired, only some of these things were 
desirable, since only some of them were meet or fitting to 
be desired. In making this distinction they would be 
passing a judgment of value. Some things, they would 
be saying in effect, are such as ought to be desired, whether 
in fact they are desired or not. Mill says that there is only 
one thing which is such as ought to be desired, namely, 
pleasure. As he further maintains, following Bentham, 
that only pleasure is in fact desired, the distinction which 
is ordinarily made between desired and desirable disappears. 

I am proposing to examine in a subsequent chapter 1 the 
doctrine that pleasure is alone desirable, and the allied 
though different doctrine that only pleasure is in fact 
desired. Here it will be sufficient to indicate some of the 
difficulties in which Mill became involved, when he 
endeavoured to work out his theory in detail. These 
difficulties arise from the attempt to combine the utilitarian 
doctrine that a right action is one which has the best 
consequences with the hedonist contention that pleasure 
alone is valuable, or, as it is generally put, that pleasure 
alone is the good. The difficulties will be thrown into 
relief, if we endeavour to answer two highly important 
questions. The first question is, "Is there more than one 
*See Chapter XI, pp. 400-415. 


330 * ETHICS 

sort of pleasure and if so, which sort is the most valuable? " 
The second is, " Whose pleasure is it that is entitled to be 
taken into account? " I propose to consider Mill's answers 
to each of these questions separately. 

That there are Different Qualities of Pleasure and that 
we Ought to Cultivate the Higher* Bentham refuses, 
to make any distinction between kinds or qualities of 
pleasure. On his view only quantity of pleasure requires 
to be taken into account. If one pleasure is greater than 
another then, he held, it is the superior in point of worth. 
This position is summed up in Bentham's famous aphorism, 
"All other things being equal, push-pin is as good as 
poetry." In other words, so long as men are really happy, 
the source of their happiness is immaterial. This doctrine 
is logical and consistent, for if our scale of value is marked 
out only in units of pleasure, quantity of pleasure is the 
only value that we can measure. 

This view was severely criticized on the score of 
immorality. Surely, it was said, some pleasures, those of 
the good man, for example, or the man of good taste, 
or the scholar, or the sage, are intrinsically more valuable 
than those of the pig or of the debauchee? Mill agreed 
that they were. He pointed out that the best men who 
have access to every kind of pleasure do, as a matter of 
fact, prefer certain pleasures to others. These preferred 
pleasures taken in sum constitute what is in effect an ideal 
which we recognize as being possessed of superior worth. 
"Of two pleasures," he writes, "... if one of the two is, 
by those who are competently acquainted with both, 
placed s6 far above the other that they prefer it, even 
though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of dis- 
content," (my italics) "and would not resign it for any 
quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is 
capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred 
enjoyment a superiority of quality, so far outweighing 
quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account." 


Criticism of Mill's Distinction between Qualities of 
Pleasure. The first reflection suggested by this asser- 
tion, for it is, indeed, an assertion and not an argument, 
is that it is circular. We are told that we may recognize 
a superior pleasure by reason of the fact that those best 
qualified to judge prefer it. There is, then, a class of persons 
possessed of what is to be regarded as superior judgment. 
How is this class of person to be recognized? By reference 
to what standard is the alleged superiority of their judg- 
ment to be assessed? The answer presumably is, by refer- 
ence to the nature of the things which they judge to be 
desirable. Now the things which they judge to be desirable 
are the superior pleasures. The conclusion is that the 
superior pleasures may be known by reason of the fact 
that persons of superior judgment prefer them, and persons 
of superior judgment by reason of the fact that they prefer 
superior pleasures. Mill admittedly proceeds to point out 
that people do as a whole prefer the pleasures attendant 
upon the exercise of their higher faculties, as compared 
with a greater quantity of pleasure produced by the 
indulgence of their lower. A wise man would not consent 
to be a happy fool; a person of feeling would not consent 
to Be base, even for a greater share of pleasure of the 
pleasure, that is to say, of the foolish and the base. " It 
is better," says Mill, "to be a human being dissatisfied 
than a pig satisfied." 

The admission is fatal to the position that the only 
thing desirable is pleasure. If in a whole X, y is the quantity 
of pleasure and z the quantity of something other than 
pleasure, which Mill denotes by the adjective "higher", 
Mill regards the value of the whole as greater if z is present, 
than it is if z is absent. But if y, the quantity of pleasure, 
is the only element of value, the amount of z which is 
present will not affect the value of the whole. It can 
only affect the whole, if z is regarded as possessing value 
in its own right. If, however, z is regarded as being simply 
pleasure, and not as higher pleasure, what is the point of 
making the distinction between pleasures implied by the 


word higher? We can only conclude that Mill regaitis 
certain other things besides pleasure, namely, those indicat- 
ed by the words "superior quality/' when he speaks of 
"superior quality" pleasures! as being desirable, and that, 
in so far as he does so, he gives up the hedonist position in 
the form in which he professes to hold it, namely, that 
pleasure is the only thing that is desirable* 

It appears, then, to be impossible to hold that pleasure 
is the only thing which is desirable, and yet to maintain 
that pleasures can differ in quality. 

That we ought to Aim at the Greatest Happiness of the 
Greatest Number. The attempt to answer the ques- 
tion, whose pleasure is entitled to count, leads Mill into 
even greater difficulties. The answer officially given to the 
question is "that everybody is to count for one, and nobody 
for more than one". Let us consider this answer in the 
light of Mill's hedonist contentions. Broadly, three positions 
are possible: (A) that I am so constituted that I can only 
desire my own pleasure; (B) that I can desire other things, 
but ought only to desire my own pleasure; (C) that I can 
desire other things, but ought to desire the greatest happiness 
on the whole, the greatest happiness on the whole Being 
commonly taken to mean the greatest happiness of the 
greatest number of people. Bentham at various times holds 
all three positions. (A) It is the first law of nature, he 
says, to wish our own happiness, and his general view is, 
as we have seen, expressed in the assertion 1 that pleasure 
and pain are the two sovereign masters of human nature. 
He also holds (B) that, since pleasure is a good, the most 
virtuous man is he who calculates most accurately how 
to promote his own pleasure. Virtue, in fact, is the habit 
of accurately estimating the course of conduct which is 
most likely to secure one's own happiness. (C) The greatest 
happiness of the greatest number is, Bentham holds, die 
ultimate standard of value in a community, and is that 
at which the legislator should aim, the good legislator 
1 See p. 398. 


being one who keeps this standard always in mind and 
directs his legislation by reference to it. Hence the good 
legislator is he who, being concerned to promote the welfare 
of society f makes an accurate calculation of the effects 
which his measures will have* in increasing the happiness 
of its members. 

And not only the good legislator, but also the good citizen ! 
He, too, should aim at the general happiness. And if it 
be asked why he should, or why he should find satisfaction 
in other people's happiness, if he can only desire his own 
(position A) , or why any course of action should appeal 
to him as being good or right except in so far as he judges . 
it likely to increase his own happiness (position B), Bentham 
answers by casually invoking the operation of a vaguely 
conceived social sense which, he holds, leads us to take 
pleasure in the pleasure of other persons. 

Bentham, as I have already remarked, failed to work 
out any detailed and consistent theory of ethics, but, if 
pressed, he would defend his position much as Hobbes, 
whose treatment of pity I have already referred to, 
defends a similar position, 1 by saying that benevolence is 
a motive to action, only because men are so constituted 
that the pleasure* of others give them pleasure. Finally, 
Bentham might take a leaf out of the book of Glaucon 
and Adeimantus* and point out that, since society takes 
pains to encourage socially benevolent and to discourage 
socially injurious actions, the action which benefits other 
people will, in a good society, be the same as the action 
which benefits oneself. 

J. S. Mill on the Duty of Promoting Others' Happiness. 
Bcntham's theory identifies "is" and "ought." To quote an 
illuminating judgment by M. Hallvy, Bentham believed 
' ' that he had discovered in the principle of utility a practical 
commandment as well as a scientific law, a proposition 
which teaches us at one and the same time what as and 
what ought to be". But things cannot, one feels, be quite 
1 See Chapter VI, p. 185. * See Chapter I, pp. 92-23. 


as simple and as pleasant as that. There must, one regret- 
fully concludes, be something wrong with a theory which 
always identifies what one wants to do with what one 
ought to do. It was the difficulty presented by the over- 
simplicity of Bentham's view which J. S. Mill (1806-1873) 
set himself to meet. His solution is curious. Mill, like 
Bentham, officially holds position (A). Mill was, however, an 
exceedingly public-spirited man, imbued by an intense 
dislike of what he calls the selfish egoist "devoid of every 
feeling or care but those that centre in his own miserable 
individuality". It is, therefore, a matter of prime import- 
.ance for Mill to defend Utilitarianism from the charge 
of selfish Egoism, and to prove that the good utilitarian, 
no less than the good intuitionist, is required to aim at 
the welfare of others. If, then, he can show that the greatest 
happiness of the greatest number is the one supreme 
good, it will, it is obvious, be the duty of the good utilitarian 
to try to promote it. He attempts to do so as follows. 

"No reason," he says, "can be given why the general 
happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as 
he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. 
This, however, being a fact, we have not only all the 
proof which the case admits of, but all which it is possible 
to require, that happiness is a good: that each person's 
happiness is a good to that person, and the general happi- 
ness, therefore, a good to die aggregate of all persons." 

The argument is a bad one. What Mill is, in effect, 
saying is that, if A's pleasure is a good to him, B's pleasure 
a good to him and C's pleasure a good to him, ami so on, 
then the aggregate pleasures of A, B and C will be good 
to all three of them taken together. Therefore, they will 
be a good to each one taken separately. 

But the pleasures of A, Band G are no more to be moulded 
into a single whole than are their persons. Nor is it clear 
why, even if they could be so moulded, the resultant 
pleasure aggregate should, on the basis of Mill's hedonist 
premises, appear desirable to any of them singly. The 
point is obvious enough, and it was obvious, to many 


minds less acute than Mill's. The philosopher F. H. Bradley 
(1846-1924) justly observed that the aggregate of all 
persons is nobody, yet every good must, on Mill's premises, 
be a good for somebody; therefore, again on Mill's premises, 
the good of all, being the good of nobody, cannot be 
good at all; while Carlyle not unfairly caricatured Mill's 
argument by saying that, because each pig desires for 
himself the greatest amount of a limited quantity of hog- 
wash, we are entitled, if Mill is right, to conclude that 
each pig necessarily desires the greatest quantity of hog- 
wash for every other pig and for all the pigs. 

The criticism serves to throw into relief the difficulty 
which underlies Mill's whole theory, namely, that of 
holding simultaneously both, position A and position C. 
The fallacy involved has already been indicated in a 
previous chapter 1 by Bishop Butler's criticism of Hobbes's 
account of pity. The consistent egoist cannot give a 
satisfactory account of either pity or sympathy. For 
even if it be admitted that sympathy constitutes a 
motive for action only in so far as the alleviation of the 
misery of others confers pleasure upon the agent, the 
possibility of the agent's pleasure is dependent upon and 
conditioned by what happens to other people. It is con- 
ditioned, in other words, by the possibility of our being 
moved disinterestedly by the misfortunes of other people. 
Adam Smith (1723-1790), an objective utilitarian he held 
that a right action is one that makes for the happiness 
of the community who was, nevertheless, not hampered, 
as were Bentham and Mill, by an egoistic psychology, 
treats sympathy more convincingly. "Sympathy," he 
writes, in his Theory of the Moral Sentiments, "is not a transfer 
to ourselves of passions which we note in others; it is an 
envisaging of the objective situation which our neighbour 
confronts, so that it calls forth in us independently its due 
emotional reaction." He even goes so far as to insist that 
4 'a view of the facts may arouse us to indignation for a 
man's wrongs, even when he does not feel it himself". 
x Scc Chapter VI, pp. 185, 186. 


Not being tied to an egoistic psychology, Adam Smith is 
enabled to do justice to what would be normally called 
the altruistic sentiments. His account gives full weight to 
the pain which we feel for others' distress, and the pleasure 
which we take in alleviating it, without making the mistake 
of supposing that the removal of our pain, the promotion of 
our pleasure, constitute the sole motive for action taken 
to relieve distress. The mistake consists precisely in a 
failure to see that, since an initial concern for the welfare 
of other people is a condition of my sympathetic pleasure 
in the alleviation of their distress, such interest cannot 
itself be dependent upon or conditioned by my pleasure. 
If, therefore, we are to admit that sympathy can constitute 
a genuine motive for action, we must also agree that it 
is possible for the agent to feel an interest in something 
other than his own states of consciousness. If he can feel 
an interest in something other, then it is not the case, as 
Mill's position A asserts, that he can only desire his own 

Mill on Social Good. Mill vainly tries to escape 
from this difficulty. 

The principle of utility which he maintains we ought 
to follow as our guide to conduct, aims at producing the 
greatest happiness of the greatest number; if the happiness 
of the individual conflicts with this principle, the individual 
must go to the wall. "In the golden rule of Jesus of 
Nazareth," he writes, "we read the complete spirit of the 
ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to 
love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal 
perfection of utilitarian morality." It is right, therefore, 
to promote the happiness of others. But how can this be, 
if one is so constituted that one can only desire the happiness 
of oneself? 

Let us suppose that A can, by doing an action P, produce 
an amount of happiness X for himself, and an amount of 
happiness Y for three other people. Let us suppose that by 
doing another action Q, he can produce an amount of 


happiness C for himself, and an amount of happiness D 
for three other people. Let us further assume that X 
is greater than C, and Y is less than D, but that the whole 
X plus Y is less than the whole C plus D. Then ought A 
to choose action P or action Q? 

According to Mill's first premise, namely that a man 
can only desire his own greatest happiness, the choice 
does not arise because A can only choose P, since X is 
greater than C. 

According to his second premise, that "each person's 
happiness is a good to that person", A ought to choose 
P, since he ought to pursue what is good. 

But according to his third premise, that a. man ought 
to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number, 
he ought to choose action Q,, on the ground that the total 
happiness C plus D is greater than the total X plus Y. 

The conclusion derived from the third premise is, then, 
that a man ought to pursue something other than his own 
pleasure, namely the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number, and furthermore that he ought to pursue it even 
if it conflicts with his own pleasure. 

Now it may be argued that though this is giving up one 
form of the hedonist position the form, namely, which 
asserts that a man can only desire his own pleasure, it is 
not giving it up in the form in which it asserts 
that pleasure is the sole good; for by insisting that he 
ought to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number, Mill is still maintaining that pleasure is the only 
thing that ought to be pursued, although the pleasure in 
question is no longer that of the agent. 

But in maintaining that the individual ought not to 
pursue his own pleasure always, but other people's pleasure 
even at the cost of his own, we are admitting that the 
individual can and ought to desire something which may 
have no relation to his own pleasure, namely, the good 
of the community. Now there is no necessary relation 
between the good of the community and the individual's 

338 * BTRXG3 

Hence Mill implicitly admits that the individual ought 
to desire at least one thing besides his own pleasure, namely, 
the good of the community to which he belongs. 

Mill's Treatment of Virtue. Mill's treatment of virtue 
is equally unconvincing. The utilitarian theory does not, 
according to Mill, deny that virtue can be desired. "It 
maintains," he says, "not only that virtue is to be desired, 
but that it is to be desired disinterestedly, for itself." 
Utilitarians, Mill continues, "recognize as a psychological 
fact the possibility of its being, to the individual, a good 
in itself, without looking to any end beyond it." 

The admission seems at first sight to give up altogether 
the principle that only happiness can be desired. Mill, 
however, endeavours to reconcile it with his main doctrine, 
by asserting that though virtue may be desired as an end 
now, it has only attained this position because it was 
originally desired as a means a means, that is, to happiness. 
People apparently found out that the practice of virtue 
tended to produce happiness, desired virtue as a means 
to happiness, and in due course by force of the habit of 
desiring virtue, forgot the reason for which they originally 
desired it, and desired it as an end in itself. This account 
of our approval of virtue is an application of the doctrine 
of the Association of Ideas which J. S. Mill derived from 
Hartley and from his father, James Mill. An outline of 
this doctrine will be given in the; next chapter. 1 

For the present it is sufficient to refer to the conclusion, 
which I have already sought to establish in a different 
connection, 8 that the fact that something may once have 
been desired as a means to an end, does not necessarily 
mean that it is not now desired as an end; this only 
follows, if we are prepared to accept explanations in terms 
of origins as being universal and exhaustive. No tcleologist 
would admit that they are. To take an instance given by 
Canon Rashdall, the fact that a savage can only count 
on the fingers of his two hands does not invalidate the 

1 $ee Chapter X, pp. 380-382. *See Chapter I, pp. 50, 31. 


truth of the multiplication table, just as the fact that religion 
began in devil worship, Totemism and exogamy, does not 
entitle us to conclude that it is not religion now. 

Similarly, the fact that the desire for virtue began as a 
desire for something else if it is a fact does not alter the 
fact that it is desired for itself now; and, if it is so desired, it 
invalidates the principle that happiness is the only possible 
object of human desire. 

Nor is it an answer to this argument to say, as Mill 
does, that in being desired as an end in itself, virtue is 
desired "as part of happiness". It is a matter of common 
experience that so far from always promoting happiness, 
the practice of virtue very frequently promotes the reverse. 
Novelists and dramatists have made us familiar with the 
antithesis between virtue and happiness, and one of the 
stock conflicts of tragedy is the conflict between the desire 
to act virtuously, on the one hand, and the desire to obtain 
happiness by following one's affections on the other. It 
is therefore, most unlikely, in the light of this common 
experience of mankind, that when men strive after virtue, 
they should always do so because they consider it to be 
a part of happiness. 

The View that Conduct Promoting Personal and Conduct 
Promoting Others' Happiness are always Identical Incon- 
sistent with Admitted Facts* Untenable in theory, 
the assumed identification between the positions which I 
have labelled A and C 1 is inconsistent with admitted facts. 
It is, of course, perfectly true that society takes care to 
encourage those actions which benefit it and to discourage 
those which harm it. Thus, as I pointed out in the first 
chapter in the discussion of the position adopted by 
Glaucon and Adeimantus, 1 there is a general presumption 
to the effect that a man will obtain more pleasure from 
socially benevolent conduct than from socially harmful 
conduct. Honesty, in fact, is the best, if only because it is 
the most expedient, policy. Again, as Butler pointed out, 
1 See p. 332 above* * See Chapter I, pp. 22-24. 


there is a general coincidence between those actions which 
proceed from an enlightened selfishness and those which 
are motivated by benevolence. But to conclude, as Bcntham, 
for example, does, that there is a necessary identity between 
actions which promote the greatest pleasure of the self and 
those which promote the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number of other people is, I think, clearly unjustifiable. 

To revert to a hypothetical illustration given on a 
previous page, if I am marooned with companions on a 
desert island and know where there is a store of food I 
shall, assuming that I am completely callous and unfeeling, 
promote my own greatest pleasure by consuming it privily, 
while I shall promote the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number of people by disclosing its whereabouts and 
distributing it equally among my companions. The 
conscienceless issuer of worthless shares, who gets away 
with the money before his fraud is exposed and lives 
happily throughout the rest of a long life during which 
he exhibits all the domestic virtues, can scarcely be said 
to promote the happiness of the greatest number; yet it 
is difficult to be sure that he does not enjoy himself. 

A further point to be noted in connection with "the 
greatest happiness of the greatest number" formula has 
a certain political significance. 

That the Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number is 
not Identical with the Greatest Happiness on the Whole. 
Mill, as we have seen, held that a right action is the one 
which has better consequences in the way of happiness 
than any other which it is open to the agent to perform. 
He believed, that is to say, that it was a man's duty to 
maximize happiness on the whole. Now both he and the 
other utilitarians seem to have taken it for granted that 
the greatest amount of happiness on the whole was identical 
with the greatest happiness of the greatest number. 
For example, Sidgwick'j Principle of Rational Benevolence, 
which I have already quoted 1 , lays it down that everybody 
1 See p. 393 above. 


has an equal right to be considered, when we are asking 
whose happiness is relevant to our estimation of right 
actions. "Everybody," in fact, "is to count for one, and 
nobody for more than one." Possibly! But to say that 
everybody should count for one, and that we ought, there- 
fore, to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number, is not the same as to say that we ought to promote 
the greatest amount of happiness on the whole. It is 
possible to conceive of two societies A and B such that, 
while the happiness which exists among the members of 
A is more evenly distributed than that which exists among 
the members of B, the total amount of happiness enjoyed 
by members of B is, nevertheless, greater than that which 
is enjoyed by the members of A. For example, the ideal 
States of Aristotle and Plato might, from this point of view, 
qualify as B States, if only because they would have 
contained or, Aristotle's State at least, would have con- 
tained large numbers of slaves, who, we may suppose, 
would have had a meagre share of whatever happiness 
was available. Aristotle's State, therefore, may well have 
exemplified a society in which, while a high degree of 
happiness was enjoyed on the whole, the happiness was 
very unevenly distributed. On the other hand, it is possible 
to imagine a highly equalitarian State in which, owing 
to material poverty, the general level of happiness is 
low. It is also conceivable that the economic system which 
enabled the State to become an equalitarian one, might 
also be responsible for the low level of material prosperity. 
The case of Russia in the years immediately succeeding 
the Revolution is a case of this kind. 

Which of these two kinds of states is the better, I will 
not presume to say. My point is merely that they are 
different, and that, if state B be judged the more desirable, 
then actions which utilitarian theory seeks to justify on 
the ground that they promote the greatest happiness of 
the greatest number will not always be right, in the utili- 
tarian sense of the word "right", since they will not always 
promote the greatest amount of happiness on the whole. 

34? * ETHICS 

If, on the other hand, we are prepared to accept as self- 
evidently true Sidgwick's Principle of Rational Benevolence, 
then we cannot always justify an action on the ground 
that it produces the greatest amount of happiness on the 
whole. To sum up, the greatest amount of happiness on 
the whole in a community, is not necessarily the same 
as the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons 
in that community. 

Critical Survey of Utilitarianism. We are now in 
a position to take a critical survey of the theory of Ob* 
jective Utilitarianism as a whole. Of the many criticisms 
to which it is exposed, I will mention three. 

tarian ethics, as expounded by most of adherents of the 
theory, is tied to a psychological doctrine which asserts 
in effect that some change in the psychological state of the 
agent is the only possible object of human action. This 
change has usually been identified with an increase in the 
agent's pleasure. Thus the doctrine of Psychological 
Hedonism is the starting point of most utilitarian theories, 
which maintain with John Stuart Mill that "pleasure and 
freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends", 
and with Bcntham that "nature has placed man under the 
governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.'* 
These statements, if they mean what they say, mean that 
the only possible* motive which a man can have for his 
actions is that of increasing his own pleasure. This doctrine 
may conceivably be true, although, as I shall try to show 
in Chapter XI, 1 there are good grounds for supposing 
it to be false. But, if it is true, then it is not possible also to 
maintain that men ought to be virtuous, that they ought 
to try to promote the welfare of others, or that they ought 
to aim at the greatest happiness of the greatest number. 
If, in fact, we begin by basing an ethical theory on the 
1 See Chapter XI, pp. 400-412* 


foundation of an egoistic psychology, we can assign no 
meaning to the word "ought", except a meaning 
derived from expediency. We can say, for example, 
that a man ought to behave in a particular way because, 
if he does, he will derive more satisfaction than he will 
derive from behaving in any other way, but we cannot 
say that he ought to behave in a particular way because 
it is right, and right because it will promote the greatest 
happiness of the greatest number of people. For there is 
no reason why a man should wish to promote the greatest 
happiness of the greatest number of people, except in so 
far as it conduces to his own, and that it does not always 
do this, has already been pointed out. The conclusion is 
that an egoistic psychology can afford no basis for the 
concept of duty. Yet the utilitarians were imbued with a 
very proper respect for duty, and, though Bentham was 
unregenerately logical "the wow! ' ought V' he said, "if 
it means anything at all 'ought' to be excluded from the 
dictionary" J. S. Mill inveighed, as we have seen, with 
considerable emphasis against the selfish egoist. 

ADMISSION OF INTUITIONS. Directly he abandons 
the psychology of Egoism, the utilitarian is driven to admit 
some at least of the contentions of the intuitionist. For, 
directly he says that we ought to do so and so, because 
of such and such results which will follow if it is done, 
he is implying that such and such results are desirable 
and are such as ought to be promoted. In the long run, 
as I have already tried to show 1 , there can be no basis for 
such a claim except an intuition which it is not possible 
to defend by reason. 

Nor, as I have already pointed out, 1 does the utilitarian 
disown intuitions. His theory entails, it is obvious, the 
admission of such intuitions as that pleasure is the sole 
good, that we ought to maximize pleasure on the whole, 
and that the pleasure of every person is of equal value with 
*See Chapter V, pp. 166-171. Sec pp. 322, 323 above. 


the pleasure of every other person, even though he does 
not call them intuitions. Some resent to intuitions on the 
part of any ethical theory is, indeed, as I have tried to 
show, 1 inevitable. Hedonism, for example, if it claims 
to be a principle of guidance for conduct and not merely 
a statement of psychological fact, xttust affirm not merely 
tliat pleasure is the end which men do in fact pursue, 
but that each man ought to pursue his own greatest pleasure. 
Now directly this assertion is made, the question presents 
itself, why ought he to pursue it? Many people would, 
if the question were put to them, insist that they do not 
always act in the way which they think will bring them the 
greatest pleasure, and if they are to be told that they ought 
so to act, they are perfectly entitled to ask for reasons why 
they ought. And in effect there are no reasons. 

Pleasure, says the hedonist, is a good and of two 
pleasures, the greater ought to be preferred. Sidgwick, 
who frankly admitted intuitions as the basis of his theory, 
affirms that they are deliverances of what he calls the 
practical reason. We just see, he says, that of two pleasures 
the greater ought to be preferred; we just see that, if my 
pleasure is a good, so too is the etjual pleasure of any other 
person; and we just see that, if the happiness of another 
man, or of a number of other men, is greater than mine, 
then it ought to be preferred to mine, because it is a 
greater good. 

It is quite probable that we do just see these things, 
see them, that is to say, to be reasonable and right, although 
we cannot give reasons for our "seeing". But Bishop 
Butler also "just saw them", and embodied them in his 
principles of Self-love I ought to act in such a way 
as to maximize my own happiness and Benevolence 
I ought to act in such a way as to maximize the happiness 
of other people; yet Butler was an objective intuitionist. 
Moreover, Butler recognized more clearly than the 
utilitarians that the two principles, the principle of Self- 
love and the principle of Benevolence, might conflict, 
1 8ee Chapter V, pp. 166-171* 


although he also held that actions proceeding from 
enlightened selfishness and actions prompted by benevolence 
were more often identical than was generally supposed. 
But, by postulating an over-riding principle of Conscience, 
he provided machinery for resolving die conflict. 1 

Utilitarianism, while in the last resort it relies no less 
freely on intuitions than the contrary 4<>ctrine, refrains 
as far as possible from admitting the fact, and, when it 
is forced to mention it, does so only with the greatest 
circumspection. It is from this unwillingness to admit 
the intuitional basis upon which Utilitarianism rests, that 
there proceed such unconvincing arguments as that which 
is designed to show that the general and individual good 
do not really conflict, or that, in promoting the greatest 
happiness of the greatest number, I am also promoting 
my own greatest pleasure. If we remain unconvinced by 
these arguments, we are confronted with the question, 
how are we to decide between the deliverances of the 
practical reason, I ought to maximize my own good, and 
I ought to maximize that of other people? If we are 
prepared to accept the authority of Butler's conscience, 
the decision is made for us, but then we shall also be 
committed to accepting his view that conscience derives 
its authority from another world, and that it is by 
reference to God's will that the problem of conduct is 
in the last resort to be solved. Unless we are prepared 
to follow Butler's arguments into the next world in order 
to resolve the puzzles of this one, there can, it would 
seem, be no way of deciding the conflict between these 
two intuitions except by invoking another. 

Once the necessity for admitting intuitions is frankly 
faced, the question arises whether we must not extend 
their operation more widely than even Sidgwick would 
be prepared to allow. Most utilitarians would be willing, 
if pressed, to agree that the assertion, pleasure is a good, 
is based on an intuition, but is there, it may bt asked, 
an intuition to the effect that pleasure is the sol* good? 
1 See Chapter VI, pp. 196-901. 


It seems doubtful. Most people would, I imagine, confess 
to intuitions to the effect that beauty is a good, that truth 
is a good, and that moral virtue is a good. The line of 
thought indicated by this suggested expansion of the scope 
and increase in the number of our intuitions of value will 
be developed in Chapter XII. 1 

VALUABLE IN THEMSELVES. It has been suggested 
above 1 that in the last resort we must lode for the raw 
material of our ethical philosophising to the deliverances 
of the popular consciousness; for, in the last resort, there 
is no other court of appeal. Now the popular consciousness 
undoubtedly holds that certain states of mind are valuable 
in themselves. No doubt its intuitions to this effect are 
neither universal nor unanimous, nor are their implications 
always consistent with the implications of other intuitions 
which are equally strongly held. They are, nevertheless, 
entitled to respect. Let us imagine a case in point. A man 
holds certain beliefs to be true and important, holds them 
so strongly that he is prepared to suffer for them. These 
beliefs are, we will suppose, political or religious; they 
constitute, in fact, the tenets of what would normally be 
called a faith. This faith, we will further suppose, is not 
the dominant one at the time; its opponents are strong,, 
its adherents oppressed and subject to persecution 
which compels them to fight for their faith. The man 
whose case we are imagining is, we will further suppose, 
captured by his adversaries and put to the torture. Will he 
recant his opinions? Will he betray his faith? In spite of 
the torture he does neither, and in due course he dies 
under it. Of his martyrdom, we will suppose, nobody hears, 
while the cause for which the martyr suffers is lost, the 
faith suppressed as a heresy, and its followers persecuted, 
until none remain. 

Granted these assumptions, we may, I think, safely 
conclude that from the determination and fortitude of our 
*See Chapter XII, pp. 439-447. 'See Chapter V, pp. 173, 174. 


hypothetical martyr no good results of any kind follow. On 
the contrary, the results which we are entitled to postulate 
are almost certainly such as would normally be called bad, 
including, as they do, the sadistic gratification of the 
torturers, appalling pain to the torturee, and a convincing 
demonstration that ideas can be stamped out by persecu- 
tion. Nevertheless, most people would, I think, hold that 
the fortitude and resolution of the torturee were morally 
praiseworthy, they would, that is to say, pass a judgment 
of moral approval upon his state of mind. To generalize 
this example, we may say that states of mind are on 
occasion morally approved by the popular consciousness 
apart from their consequences and, farther,* that a willing- 
ness to do what a man believes to be his duty is thought 
to be valuable, even if the consequences are negligible 
or bad. Such judgments form part of the common experi- 
ence of mankind, and, it might well be said, any moral 
theory which fails to make provision for them must, in 
respect of its failure, be regarded as faulty. 

The Historical Significance of Utilitarianism. If the 
foregoing criticisms are valid, Utilitarianism no less than 
Intuitionism appears defective as an ethical theory. Each 
theory fails to make adequate provision for admitted 
facts of moral experience. Intuitionism fails to make 
provision for the fact that we do habitually judge by results 
and find it difficult to believe that good motives and 
good* intentions are enough. Utilitarianism fails to make 
provision for the facts, (i) that some states of mind are 
commonly judged to be good independently of actions 
and the results of actions, and (2) that intuitions lie at 
the basis of all ethical theories including Utilitarianism 
itself, with the corollary that, if intuitions are to be 
admitted, the restriction of our intuitional judgments of 
value to the judgment that pleasure alone is valuable is 

I shall endeavour in Chapter XII to sketch the outline 
of a theory of ethics which, though admittedly very far 


from being adequate, does seek to make provision 
for those facts of moral experience which, if these 
criticisms are justified, both Intuitionism and Utilitarian* 
ism overlook. 

One comment of an historical character will serve to 
relate the discussions of this chapter to those of Part III. 
The thought of the utilitarians dominated the early* 
middle years of the nineteenth century. These years saw 
the climax of the Industrial Revolution. Vast profits were 
made by the entrepreneurs of industry, yet the condition of 
the mass of the people remained almost as bad as it had 
been before the great increase in wealth which resulted 
from the application of scientific invention to productive 
processes. Bentham and James and John Stuart Mill were 
men of humane and enlightened views ; they had the welfare 
of the people at bean, and sought to liberate them from 
every authority that could hamper their freedom, from every 
dogma and prejudice that could oppress their spirit. 1 It 
is, indeed, impossible for one who reflects upon pro- 
posals, which are summarized in Chapter XIV, not to 
carry away a conviction of the immense concern which 
their authors felt for the wellbeing of individual men and 
women. Yet during the period when they were writing, 
the economic condition of most men and women was in 
fact very bad. Is it not curious, to say the least of it, that 
amid so much that is advanced &nd enlightened on the' 
subject of politics, there, is in the writings of the utilitarians 
so little recognition of the fact that economics is the* con* 
cern of politics. Why, one wonders, are not the proposals 
for ameliorating the political status of the people sup* 
plemented by proposals for improving their economic 

The answer is, because of the economic theory ofUnsstz 
fan which taught that any artificial interference with the 
iron laws of supply and demand could not be other than 
harmful. This theory, which was maintained by James 
Mill and Bentham, no less than by Adam Smith, Ricardo 
'See Chapter XIV, pp. 


and Cobden, provided an admirable theoretical back- 
ground for the workings of Victorian Capitalism. It pro- 
claimed that, since a man would always do what paid 
him best, and since he was the best judge of what would 
pay him best, he could plan and manage much better for 
himself than any person or body could plan and manage 
for him. Therefore the best economic arrangement must 
inevitably be that which actually obtained, since this, 
being brought about by the play of the competing 
economic motives of free competitive individuals, must be 
the collective expression of what each man individually 
thought best for himself. Now this theory had its ethical 
side. It was coupled with, and indeed entailed, a mixture 
of Psychological Hedonism a man will always do what 
he thinks will give him most pleasure and Universalistic 
Utilitarianism the State and the individual ought to 
promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number 
which were the distinctive, albeit the inconsistent, tenets 
of the objective utilitarians. Thus the distinctively utili- 
tarian view of human nature and the distinctively utilitarian 
theory of ethics contributed, throughout the nineteenth 
century, to effect a separation between politics and 
economics, which enabled politicians to justify their natural 
inclination to leave economic affairs to look after them- 
selves. For if every man always did what was best for 
himself, the total effect must, it was thought, be what was 
best for everybody, the doctrine of each for himself working 
out by a pre-arranged harmony into each for all. But 
as James Martineau remarked, "from each for self to each 
for all there is no road ", and the misery of the masses 
during the nineteenth century presently forced statesmen 
to concern themselves with economics. Towards the end 
of his life John Stuart Mill was endeavouring to heal the 
split between politics and economics which the early 
nineteenth century economists had made, and was rapidly 
moving in the direction of some form of socialist theory. 1 
But his departure from laissczfairt was only achieved at 
1 See Chapter XVII, p. 723. 

350 , * , ETHICS 

the cost of effecting a further breach in the structure of 
the utilitarian ethical and psychological doctrines which 
he had inherited from Bentham and from his father, James 


xSrocwiCK, HENRY. Methods .of Ethics. 

BENTHAM, JEREMY. Introduction to the Principles of Morals and 

-t MILL, J. S. Utilitarianism. 

MOORE, G. . Principia Ethka. 

STEPHEN, Tjayrm. English Utilitarians. 

ROGERS, A. K. Morals in Review, Chapters XIV and XV. 

Books Critical of Utilitarianism. 

Ross, W. D. The Right and the Good. 

CARRTTT, E. F. A Theory of Morals. 

RASHDALL, H. H. The Theory of Good and Evil. 


Introductory* General Characteristics of Subjectivist 
Theories. All the views which we have considered 
hitherto agree in holding that actions, characters, and 
situations possess ethical characteristics in their own right. 
They are good or bad, right or wrong, independently of 
what any person or body of persons thinks or feels about 
them. These ethical characteristics are, for the objective 
intuitionist, intrinsic features of the actions, characters, or 
situations which they characterise, and they are revealed 
to the conscioTisness of the good man by the intuition of 
a faculty known as the moral sense. To the utilitarian, 
ethical qualities belong to actions only in so far as they 
produce certain effects, although the effects themselves 
are regarded as possessing ethical characteristics in their 
own right. All the views hitherto considered agree, there- 
fore, in holding that when we make an ethical judgment 
about a situation, we are judging about the characteristics 
which that situation apparently possesses independently 
of our judgment characteristics which our judgment, if it 
is correct, reports and by which our feelings, when we 
morally approve or disapprove of what we judge, are evoked. 
Subjectivist theories deny this. Subjectivist theories deny 
that is to say, that characters, actions and situations possess 
ethical characteristics in their own right, and assert that, 
in so far as they can be said to possess ethical characteristics 
at all, they do so only in the sense in which these character- 
istics are attributed to them by our judgments, or are 
conferred upon them by our feelings. If there were no 
judgments and no feelings, then, subjectivists agree, there 
would be no ethical characteristics. "There is nothing 

352 ' ETHICS 

right or wrong but thinking makes it so"; "Goodness like 
everything else is a matter of taste"; "It is the human 
mind which bestows values upon things"; are typical 
subjectivist statements. Now all these statements, and 
the theories which they illustrate, possess the common 
characteristic of defining good by reference to a state of 
mind on the part of some, most, or all men. They all, that 
is to say, imply in one way or another that, if there were 
no states of mind, there would be no such thing as good. 

But the states of mind by reference to which good is 
defined are very various. "By good," says Professor Royce, 
in his book Studits of Good and Evil, "we mean whatever 
we regard as something to be welcomed, pursued, won, 
grasped, held, persisted in, preserved." Moreover, different 
theories define such mental states differently. 

Subjectivist theories are, accordingly, very numerous. 
As it is impossible within the limits of a single chapter to do 
justice to all of them, to specify all the different mental 
attitudes which they regard as relevant to the establishment 
of good, and to enumerate all the theories in which these 
attitudes are embodied, I will select three main types of 
fubjectivist theory which may be taken as fairly represent- 
ative. These are, first, theories based upon an egoistic 
psychology, characteristic examples of which are to be found 
in the philosophies of Hobbes and Spinoza ; secondly, a form 
of subjectivism which is a variety of Utilitarianism, and of 
which Hume may be taken as a characteristic exponent ; and, 
thirdly, subjectivist theories which are derived from theories 
which are not themselves ethical, for example, scientific 
theories about the nature of evolution, or political theories 
about the origin and nature of -society. Of these last 
Herbert Spencer's ethics affords a good example. 


Psychological Principles of Hobbes (1588-1679). 
The writings of Hobbes are more important in the 


history of political than in that of ethical theory. Some 
account of Hobbes's political theory will be given in 
Part HI; 1 here we are concerned only with his ethical 

Hobbes begins with a psychological statement. All men, 
he says, are egoists. This statement is in the nature of a 
dogma; it seemed to Hobbes self-evident that Egoism 
was the fundamental law of human nature. Hobbes's 
Egoism was, however, reinforced by a certain theory of 
knowledge. This theory, which is known as Solipsism, 1 
asserts that the only objects which I can possibly know, 
are my own states of mind. If I can only know my own 
states of mind, nothing other than my own states of mind 
can, it is obvious, concern me. 

If Hobbes is right in thinking that we are all egoists, 
he is faced with the necessity of answering the question; 
how did the belief in the existence of altruism arise? He 
answers it, not very convincingly, 8 by affirming that men 
are free to entertain whatsoever ideas about themselves 
they please. They may, therefore, think about them- 
selves either truly or erroneously. In so far as they think 
about themselves truly, they cannot but come to certain 
conclusions which will be to the effect that, since, man is 
by nature purely egoistic, self-interest can be the only motive 
for action, and the advantaging of the self the only end of 
conduct. To realize that this is so, is to substitute an 
enlightened for an unthinking Egoism, for once having 
realized it, we are led to adopt right views in regard to 
the nature both to the individual and the community. 
Hobbes's conclusions in regard to the community are 
important and will be summarized in Chapter XIII. 4 

1 See Chapter XIII, pp. 472-478, for an account of Hobbes's 
political theory. 

1 For a more detailed account of Solipsism see my GvtdSr to Philosophy, 
Chapter II, pp, 55-9. 

* There cannot, as I shall try to show in the next Chapter (see pp. 
387-392) be a convincing answer to this question on the basis of a 
purely egoistic psychology. 
See Chapter XIII, pp. 474-478. 



Hobbes's Attitude to Human Nature. So far as the 
individual is concerned, the most important conclusion 
derived by Hobbes from his egoistic psychology is a com* 
plctcly subjcctivist theory of good. Good, he holds, is 
whatever conduces to the individual's advantage. This 
type of theory has a certain affinity with what in a previous 
connection I have called the scientific view of human 
nature, 1 that is to say, the view of human nature which 
interprets its present condition in terms of its origins. 
Hobbes, as we shall see later, makes a distinction between 
man in the state of nature and man in society. What is 
called morality is, he holds with Glaucon* in, Plato's 
Republic, a creation of society. Granted, therefore, that 
there was a pre-social condition of man, it will follow 
that pre-social man or, as Hobbes calls him "natural" 
man, will be non-moral, and the correct method for the 
approach and understanding of man will be the sort of 
method which we should adopt with any other kind of 
animal. What, we shall have to ask, is his natural dis- 
position, what sort of faculties has he, what is the mode of 
behaviour appropriate to him, by what sort of motives 
will the actions of a creature possessing such and such a 
disposition and such and such faculties be prompted? 
We are asked, then, to adopt a standpoint for our enquiry 
into human nature, from which man is regarded as a 
creature sprung from certain origins and endowed, as a 
result, with certain propensities, psychological and physio- 
logical, which determine his reactions to the environment in 
which he is placed. If, then, we can discover the nature of 
man's propensities, if we can determine the character of 
man's environment, we shall understand those reactions 
of the propensities to the environment which constitute 
human behaviour. In searching for the origin of those 
propensities which are our mqral notions, it is upon 
physiology that Hobbes chiefly relies. Looking to man's 
primitive equipment of appetite and desire, he concludes 
that whatever satisfies appetite, whatever attracts desire, 
1 Sec Chapter VII, pp. 231-241. 'See Chapter I, p. *i. 


is good. "But whatsoever/ 9 he writes, "is the object of 
any man's appetite or desire, that is it which he for his 
part callcth 'good'; and the object of his hate and aversion, 
'evil 9 ; and of his contempt, 'vile' and ' inconsiderable.' 
For these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever 
used with relation to the person that useth them, there 
being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common 
rule of good and evil, to be taken from the nature of the 
objects themselves; but from the person of the man, where 
there is no commonwealth, or, in a commonwealth, from 
the person that represented! it." In a word, that which 
we desire is good; that for which we feel aversion, evil 
Or, more shortly, the meaning of good is what we desire, 
of evil, that for which we feel aversion. 

Hobbes's Account of the Virtues and Vices. The 
feelings of appetite and desire which Hobbes describes in 
physiological terms as movements within the body, are 
pleasures; the feeling of aversion is a pain. When these 
feelings arise, not from the presence of objects, but from 
their absence, they become respectively joy and grief. 
From these simple passions all the more complex ones are 
derived. Appetite combined with the expectation of satis- 
fying it is hope; aversion with the expectation of being hurt 
by its object, fear; aversion, with the hope of avoiding the 
hurt by resistance, courage; sudden courage, anger; gdcf, 
for the discovery of some failure in our abilities, shame; 
and so on. There is throughout this list a persistent 
identification between good and pleasant, evil and un- 
pleasant. Starting from the assumption that I call good 
what ministers to my. pleasure, and that by calling a thing 
good I mean merely that it is pleasant, we shall expect to 
find an analysis of all the so-called altruistic virtues into 
their elements of expediency and self-interest. Nor does 
Hobbes disappoint us. Altruistic sentiments, he agrees, 
appear to suggest that there is a good which exists outside 
the agent, but this appearance, he maintains, is delusive, 
for they are, in fact, concerned always and only to promote 

356 * ETHICS 

the agent's pleasure. Pity, as we have already seen, 1 arises 
from the thought that a like calamity may befall ourselves. 
Laughter is a "sudden glory" caused either by something 
we do that pleases us, or by the apprehension of something 
deformed in another, the contrast between which and our 
own lack of the deformity gives us pleasure. The "worth" 
or "value" of a man is the same as his "price", and his 
"price" is simply what another would give for the use of 
his power. Honour is simply "the manifestation of the value 
we set 1 ' on a man because of our estimation of his "worth"; 
cruelty is men's "contempt, or little sense of the calamity 
of others . . . proceeding from the security of their own 
fortune." In opposition to the Greek thinkers, Hobbes 
urges that men have by nature no social character. They 
are not, that is to say, by nature political and social beings; 
they seek society not for its own sake, but only in order 
that they may enjoy its honours and win its prizes. Thus 
our delight in social gatherings is always self-interested 
we meet in order to joke at others' expense, backbite the 
absent, boast about ourselves and display our learning 
or wit. In a word, the mind of man is concerned only with 
its own glory; his senses with their own pleasures. 

Ethics of Spinoza (1637-1677). I have illustrated 
Hobbes's views in some little detail because his philosophy 
provides the most consistent and unflinching exposition 
of a certain type of ethical theory. This theory is egoistic. 
It envisages, that is to say, some change in the state of 
the agent as the only possible motive of action. It is also 
hedonistic, since the state whose promotion is recognized 
as a motive is always pleasurable and only pleasurable, 
naturalistic in the sense that it is based upon an alleged 
scientific study of the nature of man as just one among 
the many inhabitants of the natural world, subject to 
the same laws as those which determine the behaviour 
of his fellow creatures, and iiibjectivist, in the sense that 
the meaning which it gives to the word "good" is "that 
1 See Chapter VI, p. 185. 


which happens to be the object of appetite or desire". 
Although it forms part of a very different philosophy, 
the conclusions of Spinoza's ethical theory are not dissimilar, 
and a brief summary will suffice. 

Metaphysically, Spinoza may be classed as an absolute 
monist; be maintained, that is to. say, that the universe 
was a single unity which was God, and that everything 
which exists is an aspect or an expression of this funda- 
mental divine unity. Apart from the whole which is God, 
the individual is nothing; his being is derived wholly from 
God, of whose nature he is a partial expression. But 
although only an item in the whole which is God, the 
individual nevertheless plays within that whole a necessary 
and essential role. For although he is only a partial 
expression of God, if it were not for him, God would not 
be what He is, his completion being necessary to God's. 
It is, therefore, a law of the individual's nature, that he 
should struggle to preserve his integrity as an individual 
within the all-pervading one-ness of the universe, that 
he should struggle, that is to say, to affirm his, right 
to realize hjfnmclft Thus the fundamental law of the 
individual's nature, a law whose operations he cannot 
escape, is a law of effort and struggle, and since there 
cannot be effort and struggle without desire, it is a law 
also of desire. Starting from very different presuppositions, 
Spinoza thus reaches a position which, so for as its psycho- 
logical and ethical corollaries are concerned, is little 
different from that of Hobbes. Man is a determined being, 
in the sense that he is completely determined by the laws 
of his being. The word "good" has no meaning apart 
from the individuals who use it. Absolutely and objectively 
there is no such thing as good, nor have our ethical con- 
cepts any meaning in the outside world; there is only the 
good for me and the good for you, and the good for me, 
that which I call good, is whatever assists my endeavour 
to preserve my* own being and further my realization of 
myself as an individual. Now whatever tends to further 
my self-realization, to make me, that is to say, more 

358 ' ETHICS 

completely my individual self, is pleasant Whatever 
thwarts this endeavour is painful. Thus what I call 
good is identified with that which gives me pleasure. 

Spinoza's Ethical Conclusions and Account of Origins of 
Moral Ideas. Though its principles are no less egoistic, 
Spinoza's system of ethics is altogether more dynamic than 
that of Hobbcs. While, for Hobbes, the good is that which 
tends to iny preservation and the object of my endeavour 
is to remain what I am, for Spinoza the good is whatever 
tends to the enhancement of my individuality, and the 
object of my endeavour is to achieve greater abundance 
and distinctivencss of being. Spinoza, like Hobbes, thinks 
of the individual's welfare very largely in physiological 
terms. The first endeavour of the mind is, he holds, to 
affirm the existence of the body, and it is in die enrichment 
of bodily life by the satisfaction of the body's needs, by 
the development of the body's capacities and by the 
enhancement of its powers of action, that the good for the 
individual consists. 

Spinoza's practical conclusions are the reverse of ascetic. 
It is, indeed, difficult to see how any subjectivist system of 
ethics can subscribe to the admonition to mortify the 
flesh. If the good is that which I enjoy, the more the 
enjoyment, the greater, it is obvious, the good. The 
practical bearing of almost all subjectivist systems of ethics 
has, therefore, been Epicurean and Spinoza's is no excep- 
tion. Eating, drinking, the pleasures of the senses, the 
beauty of nature, sport, art and the drama all these are 
prescribed to keep the body in good condition, so that it 
may be in a position to perform whatever functions are 
appropriate to its nature. Such, for Spinoza! is the outline 
of the "good "life. 

The word "good" is, however, rightly printed in 
quotation marks, for strictly speaking Spinoza recognizes 
no good* The universe as a whole is for him neither good 
nor bad; it just is. Good, then, can have meaning only 
in relation to those finite individuals who are the partial 


expressions of the universe's nature. The good of the 
individual is, as we have seen, whatever contributes to 
the vigour of his bodily being; his evil, whatever contri- 
butes to the diminution of his well-being and the thwarting 
of his desires* Now the good of one individual will be 
different from the good of another, since what conduces 
to my well-being may militate against yours. Hence the 
notion of good is relative, relative, that is to say, to the 
individual, and the same thing can, therefore, be both 
good and bad at the same time, which means in effect 
that in itself it is neither good nor bad. 

Value, being a product of human needs, can have no 
meaning apart .from them. The individual mind has, 
however, Spinoza points out, a disposition to project its 
own creations upon the universe at large, and to father 
on to the external world its personal preferences and 
prejudices. It is thus led to regard good and evil as absolute 
concepts binding upon God, whereas they are in effect 
nothing more than the personal likes or dislikes of individual 

To sum up, Spinoza reduces ethics to a series of what 
we should now call rationalizations. The universe possesses 
no ethical characteristics, and ethical terms are without 
meaning apart from human minds. Human minds, impelled 
by the needs of their bodies, strive to emphasize their 
individuality; they strive, that is to say, to achieve an 
enhanced vigour and abundance of life. Whatever conduces 
to this end gives them pleasure; accordingly, they call it 
"good." This "good" they project outwards on to the canvas 
of an ethically neutral universe, and then acclaim as in- 
dependent facts the figments of their own creation. Such, 
broadly, is Spinoza's explanation of the existence of so-called 
moral values on the basis of a thorough-going Egoism. 

Modification of Spinoza's Determinism. Since I am 
including an account of Spinoza's ethics in a chapter 
devoted to subjcctivist theories, I have naturally stressed 
the purely egoistic aspect of his views. It should, however, 


in fairness be mentioned that his philosophy has another 
side. Spinoza's one ultimate reality or God, of which or 
whom all things are different aspects, manifests itself in 
two main forms or modes of expression, the first mental, 
the second bodily. The body is not just something added 
to the mind; it is a parallel expression of the same funda- 
mental substance. It follows, then, that any and every 
aspect of the immortal substance, that is of God, can 
express itself in. bodily movements. In so far as it does so, 
and in so far as the bodily movements, in their turn, 
express themselves in mental events which are determined 
by the movements, there is no escape from a naturalistic, 
deterministic and egoistic conception of human nature. 
Given such a view of human nature, the system of ethics 
which I have just outlined necessarily follows, and since 
the bodily expressions of God's substance are no less real 
than the mental, and since body is in no sense dependent 
upon spirit, the naturalistic reading of human life is both 
true and ultimate. 

But it is not the only reading, for God's substance also 
expresses itself in terms of spirit. The distinguishing activity 
of spirit, as Spinoza conceives it, is intellectual, and the 
purpose of the intellectual activity of the spirit is the quest 
for truth. To see things exactly as they are, and to accept 
unreservedly what one sees is to achieve truth. To achieve 
truth is to fulfil the spirit whose quest truth is, and to 
fulfil the spirit is to realize one's own nature or, as Kant 
put it, to obey the law of one's nature. Now, in obeying 
the law of our natures, we are free. When we act with the 
object of gratifying the desires and passions that derive 
their origin from the events taking place in our bodies, 
we are, Spinoza agrees with Kant, 1 in bondage to forces 
external to ourselves. But when we exercise the activity 
of the intellect in the quest for truth, we are determined 
only by a law which springs from our own being. Thus 
the positive side of Spinoza's ethics consists in an exhor- 
tation to pursue knowledge as the highest goal of man, 
1 See Chapter VI, pp. 203, 204* 


since it is only in the pursuit and achievement of knowledge 
that man's spirit escapes from bondage to what is outside 
itself, and attains the true freedom of self-fulfilment. "You 
shall know the truth/ 9 Spinoza writes, "and the truth 
shall make you free." 

The issues raised by Spinoza's philosophy are primarily 
metaphysical and cannot be pursued here. I have included 
the foregoing passage in order that I might exonerate 
myself from the charge of having presented a one-sided 
view of Spinoza's ethics. For my present purpose, it is the 
Subjectivism and Egoism of Spinoza which are important, 
because they constitute a striking example of the view 
that the statement "X is good" means "X produces 
a feeling of approval in me". 


Hume's Account of Good. Hobbes's and Spinoza's 
ethics appear within our framework as examples of Sub- 
jective-Intuitionism. As an illustration of Subjective- 
Utilitarianism, I propose briefly to consider the ethical 
theory of Hume (1711-1776). TTie difference between the 
views of Hobbes and Spinoza, on the one hand, and of . 
Hume, on the other, is one of form rather than of sub- 
stance. Formally, it may be put as follows. A good action 
for Hobbes and Spinoza is one of which I approve; a 
good action for Hume is one which has consequences of which 
I, or rather, of which most men, approve, either because 
they are pleasant, or because they are useful useful being 
defined by Hume as meaning conducive to pleasure. The 
difference is, I repeat, largely one of form, since although 
Hobbes and Spinoza define good as that of which I 
approve, they would agree that I only do approve of 
that which I believe will have pleasurable consequences 
to myself, 

Hume, however, introduces a new factor into subjecti- 
vist theory which foreshadows the views which Bentham 


362 * ETHICS 

and J. S. Mill were. later to put forward; this factor also 
enables him to claim, for his theory of ethics a certain 
degree of objectivism. The novelty consists in Hume's 
identification of good not with that which is approved of 
by me, but with that which is approved of by all or most 

His theory briefly is as follows. There is, first, a definition 
of good; to say that X is good means, in Hume's view, 
that X is such that the contemplation of it calls forth 
an emotion of approval in all or most men; not, be it noted, 
in the agent or in the person judging, or even in the 
members of a particular society, but in all or most of the 
men who are now alive, or who have ever been alive* 
Secondly, there is an affirmation in regard to what things 
are good, that is to say, in regard to those things which 
call forth an emotion of approval in all or in most men. 
The affirmation is hedonistic. There are, Hume thinks, 
two classes of actions, of the qualities of things and of the 
characters of human beings, which are good in the sense 
defined, namely, those actions which are pleasant to the 
agent, those qualities of things which are pleasant to their 
possessor, and those characters of individuals which give 
pleasure to others, and also those actions, qualities, and 
characters which are useful. Hume proceeds to define 
useful as meaning, indirectly conducive to pleasure in 
the agent, in the possessor, or in other men. He holds 
also that the converse of these assertions is true, namely, 
that only those actions, qualities and characters which 
are directly pleasant or indirectly conducive to pleasure, 
evoke the emotion of approval in all or most men, and 
so are called good. 

Hume's Form of Hedonism. Hume, then, is a hedonist, 
but a hedonist of a rather peculiar kind. He does not 
assert that we are so constituted that we can only 
desire pleasure, nor does he say that pleasure is good or 
is the only good, nor that pleasure and good mean the 
same thing. He would agree that the words pleasure and 


good stand for two different things; but, he holds, there 
is a universal and reciprocal connection between them. 
Thus whatever we call good turns out to be pleasant or 
conducive to pleasure, and to whatever we find to be 
pleasant we give the name of "good." 

Although it is subjectivist, Hume's theory is not egoistic. 
Just as his assertion that it is not the approval of the self, 
but the approval of all or most men that confers lightness 
upon actions, and goodness upon persons and characters, 
constitutes a departure from the extreme subjectivist 
position, so by his endeavour to establish the existence 
and validity of altruistic sentiments he declares his repudia- 
tion of Egoism. In this endeavour he succeeds better than 
any other subjectivist writer. His theory is as follows. 
Men, as we have seen, are so constituted that they feel 
an emotion of approval for happiness and for whatever 
conduces to happiness. This emotion of approval is not 
confined to the happiness, or to what conduces to the 
happiness, of themselves. On the contrary, they feel it 
in contemplating happiness wherever or in whomsoever 
it is found. The fact that they do so is invoked by 
Hume as evidence for what he calls "the principle of 
benevolence. " 

Hume's Establishment of the Principle of Benevolence. 
Now this principle is put forward as an altruistic one. 
Hume, in fact, goes out of his way to criticize Hobbes 
and Spinoza whose egoistic premises had committed them 
to a repudiation of any principle of benevolence. In opposi- 
tion to their view, Hume brings forward the following 
arguments. We* feel an emotion of approval for actions, 
characters and sentiments, in literature and on the stage, 
that cannot possibly affect us. Nor is it to the point to 
say that we imagine ourselves as contemplating those actions 
and being affected by those characters in real life, because, 
as Hume trulysays, mere imagination could never produce 
the emotion by itself, if we knew that it was only imagina- 
tion. Again, we feel the emotion of approval for qualities 

364 * ETHIG3 

useful to their possessor, which cannot possibly be useful 
to others; for example, the possession of good taste in 
literature or painting. We can even admire in our enemies 
virtues such as courage or resolution, which make them more 
dangerous to us. 

If we do not in fact value and admire qualities and char- 
acters and actions in others which do not conduce to our own 
advantage, then, Hume points out, the sentiment of benev- 
olence must be a delusive appearance of something else. 
How, then, are we to account for this appearance? There are, 
Hume argues, broadly speaking, only two alternatives. The 
first is that the appearance of the sentiment is due to deliberate 
fraud; the second that it is due to self-deception. The first 
objection is dismissed as palpably absurd. If everybody 
knew that there was no such thing as benevolence, it 
would obviously be no use trying to pretend that there 
was. With regard to the possibility that our so-called 
benevolence is a piece of self-deception, Hume admits 
that it may be so, but asks in effect, 'what if it is?' For 
let us suppose that it is self-deception; it would still be the 
case that men think it necessary to believe that altruism 
and benevolence exist and are real, even if they do not 
exist and are not real. What is more, because of this belief 
they will be habitually led to perform actions which 
benefit others, and we shall feel approval for these actions 
and for the persons who do them, even if we are only 
approving of those who habitually deceive themselves. 

Hume's Subjectivism assists his argument at this point. 
His theory is not based on the supposition that actions 
are in fact benevolent, or that characters do possess moral 
worth in their own right. The basis of his theory is, it 
will be remembered, the fact of human approval; those 
things are good of which most men approve. Provided 
thai, that there is human approval, provided, that is to 
say, that we do approve of actions which benefit others, 
or which are designed to benefit them, then benevolence 
is, for Hume, established. Now we undoubtedly do approve 
of such actions and, men are, therefore, benevolent. 


Hume's- Refutation of Egoism* Finally, Hume insists, 
we can all desire things other than our own happiness; 
we can all, that is to say act from motives other than that 
of self-love; if we did not, we should not be able to gratify 
self-love. Hie point is one which has already been made in 
another connection in criticism of J. S. Mill's Hedonism. 1 
Revenge, for example, is sometimes necessary for the 
gratification of self-love; but revenge presupposes that we 
desire another person's misery. If, however, we can desire 
another person's misery, we can desire something other 
than our own happiness, and we can and do do this, 
even if the invariable effect of the gratification of the 
desire, is to promote our own happiness. Hume's refutation 
of Egoism does not involve any departure from his position 
that nothing has ethical value apart from human conscious- 
ness, and that happiness alone has ethical value. Hume, 
admittedly, sometimes writes as if we approved of certain 
actions and characters in themselves, but he speedily 
corrects himself and makes it clear that all he means is 
that we have a general approval of happiness combined 
with the belief that actions or characters of the type in 
question tend to promote it. 

Hume's Account of Justice. Hume's grounds for 
insisting that it is only happiness, or actions or characters 
conducive to happiness, that are valuable are not in 
essence different from those which have been urged by 
other hedonistic writers. Hume has, however, an interesting 
hedonistic argument in relation to justice which deserves 
separate mention. In common with others who maintain 
that pleasure is the only good, he has to meet the 
difficulty that in the course of obeying rules, meting out 
justice, and administering laws, we sometimes do what 
may be unpleasant for ourselves, what is certainly 
unpleasant to other people, namely, our victims, and 
what seems, therefore, to be detrimental to the general 
happiness. Hume agrees that this is indeed so, but it is so, 
1 See Chapiter IX, p. 336. 

366 ' ETHICS 

he affirms, only in isolated cases. Confronted by the diffi- 
culty of such cases, We find ourselves tempted to break the 
rules, to mitigate the rigour of justice, and to make an 
exception in our application of the law. When assailed 
by this temptation, we have, however, to ask ourselves the 
question, what would happen if our conduct in deciding to 
treat the case under consideration as an exception were to 
become general. Clearly, rules would be widely broken, 
justice would no longer be administered, and the law would 
fell into contempt. If these things were to occur, society 
would become impossible. The breakdown of society 
would be destructive of the general happiness, which is 
largely dependent upon the maintenance of security and 
order which society alone can guarantee. 

The conclusion is that the utility of rules vanishes, if 
we are prepared to make exceptions. It is more desirable 
that we should maintain the rules, however hardly they 
may bear upon particular cases, than that we should 
suspend rules in order to avoid inflicting hardship in 
particular cases. 

This is Kant's test of universalization 1 in another form. 
There is no contradiction in having rules which everybody 
keeps; there is contradiction in making an exception 
whenever the rules bear hardly, because if the exceptions 
become sufficiently numerous and there is nothing to 
prevent them from doing so, once they are admitted 
the rules will no longer command respect, and will cease 
to be rules. Hume's conclusion is that our willingness in 
particular cases to take action in the interests of law and 
justice, which is inimical to the happiness of certain 
persons, does not invalidate the general principle that in 
the long run happiness is the only thing for which men feel 
approval! For men, being rational beings, are able to take 
into account not only the immediate, but the remote 
consequences of their actions, and these, if they are to be 
such as we can approve, must entail respect for rules and 
a willingness to obey the laws, since without such respect 
1 See Chapter VI, p. ao8. 


and willingness society would become impossible and the 
general happiness would be diminished. 


General Principles of Spencer's Ethics. In the nine- 
teenth century a number of ethical thcorieswcrc propounded 
which owed their characteristic features to the populari- 
sation of the doctrine of evolution. The general conclusion 
of these theories of ethics is briefly as follows. Evolution 
is a universal process of which human beings are particular 
expressions. Therefore the laws which govern the process 
of evolution are also the laws of human nature. These laws 
are broadly summed up in the doctrine of the struggle for 
survival. Therefore, whatever assists organisms, including 
human beings, to survive will be good; .it will also be 

Herbert Spencer's (1820-1903) so-called evolutionary 
ethics, the principles of which are set out in works entitled 
Principles of Ethics > Social Statics, and Inductions of Ethics 
may be regarded as constituting a typical statement of 
this point of view. 

Spencer's approach to ethics is logical and scientific. 
His avowed purpose in writing is to give to the rules of 
moral conduct die status of deductions from self-evident 
premises; to give them, that is to say, the necessary character 
which belongs to propositions in logic. Good for Spencer 
has no distinctive, objective meaning. Good means, always 
and only, good of its kind; and a thing is good of its land, 
when it adequately performs its appointed function. 
Good, therefore, is instrumental; it is a means to an end, 
namely, the right performance of function. The word 
has, however, for. Spencer, a further meaning for, we may 
ask, " What is the end which the adequate performance of 


function subserves, or why, " if one cares to put it in this 
way, "is it 'good* to perform one's function?" Spencer 
answers that it is "good" to perform one's function, only in 
so far as such performance is a source of pleasure or satis- 
faction. For Spencer the only end which a rational being 
can propose to himself is that of a surplus of pleasure over 
pain. This end becomes progressively more desirable as 
the surplus grows, and if a condition could be reached in 
which pain had vanished absolutely, it would become an 
absolute end. So far, Spencer's principles diverge very 
little from the familiar tenets of Subjectivism and Hedonism. 
Good is identified with the right performance of function; 
the right performance of function is pleasant, and pleasure 
is the end of man. Spencer's distinctive contribution 
consists in the answers which he gives to such questions 
as " Why pleasure is good, what sort of conduct is likely 
to produce it for us, and why does it do so." 

It is by virtue of this contribution that his ethics is 
usually entitled scientific. The introduction of science is 
effected as follows. It is not enough, says Spencer, that the 
ethical philosopher should point out that some things are 
pleasant and that these things are good. He must also 
demonstrate why it is that they are good; it is in order 
to effect the demonstration, that Spencer has recourse to 
the theory of evolution. 

His Introduction of Evolutionary Concepts into Ethics. 
The nature of any organism is, he holds, determined by 
its character as an evolutionary product. As such it will 
inevitably tend to preserve and develop itself and to beget 
offspring, which will continue the species to which it 
belongs. Such evolutionary operations are pleasure- 
producing. If they were not, we should have no induce- 
ment to perform them; for a man, as Spencer is careful 
to point out, would not struggle to maintain an existence 
whose pains exceeded its pleasures. Pleasure, then, invests 
any vitality-promoting, evolution-furthering form of 
behaviour, while pain is a sign of the maladjustment of the 


organism to its environment. Now a badly adjusted 
organism will have an inferior chance of survival to that 
of a well-adjusted one. Hence conduct which tends to 
adjust the organism to its environment will have a greater 
chance of being stamped into the customary behaviour 
of the species than conduct which does not. There will, 
therefore, be a natural tendency for painful forms of conduct 
to be eliminated, and for pleasant forms of conduct to 
become habitual, while only those species will survive 
whose conduct yields them a preponderance of pleasure 
over pain. The contrary is also true. Behaviour which 
assists the performance of function is, as we have seen, 
pleasant. There will, therefore, be a natural tendency 
for conduct which is useful in the struggle for existence to 
be performed. Thus pleasure-promoting conduct is per- 
formed because it assists the evolutionary process, and 
conduct which, from the evolutionary point of view is 
useful, is performed because it is pleasant. 

Spencer was not, however, content to lay down in this 
general way that pleasure attended survival-promoting, 
and evolution-furthering, conduct. What conduct is it, 
he wanted to know, that promotes survival, what furthers 
evolution? His answer is, whatever conduct tends to adjust 
a man to his environment. Such adjustment may be 
envisaged as a harmony between man's instincts and the 
circumstances that call his instincts into play. Spencer 
conceives of the properly adjusted individual organism 
as functioning in relation to its environment like a well- 
oiled machine, responding to the demands for action which 
are made upon it without friction and with the minimum 
of effort. An organism whose conduct is adequately 
adjusted to, whose needs are adequately met by, a stable . 
environment is described as being in a state of equilib- 
rium. In a state of equilibrium it experiences pleasure. 
The achievement of this state is a permanent goal or 
end of human effort and all our actions are designed to 
realize it. If, indeed, we were to ask what is the object of 
the evolutionary process, Spencer would answer that, so 


far as the individual is concerned, the end is precisely 
this state of equilibrium. Is it ever completely achieved? 
Obviously it is not. There is, then, for Spencer, no 
absolute standard of good. Ultimate good is an unrealized, 
possibly an unrealizable, goal, just because complete 
equilibrium is never realized and may never be realizable. 
Meanwhile, however, whatever conduces to this end is 
good. Human beings being various, and the contingencies 
of life uxiforseeable, scientific ethics cannot lay down 
exact rules for guidance as to how the end is to be achieved; 
it can only indicate the general direction, explain why it 
should be followed, and point out that, in so far as it is 
followed we shall experience pleasure. In thus insisting 
upon the provisional nature of all ethical rules and principles 
Spencer agrees with Aristotle. 

Spencer's Account of Altruism and Explanation of 
Society, The scheme is, so far, a purely egoistic one. 
The Darwinian principle of Natural Selection announced 
struggle as the law of life, and the survival of the individual 
as its end. But creatures evolved by the method of struggle, 
and acknowledging only the law of self-survival, cannot 
be credited with the desire to promote the welfare also, 
presumably, envisaged in terms of survival of other 
beings. Spencer has, therefore, to meet the difficulty 
which all forms of subjectivist ethics encounter of explain- 
ing the existence of what are normally regarded as altruistic 
sentiments, and the operation of what are apparently 
disinterested motives. The difficulty is met within the 
framework of the general evolutionary theory upon the 
following lines. 

Spencer propounded a celebrated formula for evolu- 
tionary progress in terms of an advance from the more 
simple to the more complex. Evolution, he says, is "a 
process whereby an indefinite, incoherent, homogeneity is 
transformed into a definite, coherent, heterogeneity*'. 
Thus the jellyfish is comparatively structureless and homo- 
geneous, while man is a complicated vertebrate whose 


bond are clearly different from his brains, and whose 
brains are different from his blood. In primitive society 
all men lead the same sort of life and the social structure 
, is simple. In civilized societies one man lives in a hovel and 
another in a mansion, while society is cut across by 
infinitely diverse stratifications of class and creed and code. 
As human existence becomes more complex, some degree 
of co-operation is necessary in order that the needs of the 
more complex beings whom the evolutionary process 
throws up, may receive satisfaction. Co-operation relieves 
human beings from the necessity of supplying for them- 
selves their most elementary needs, and thus releases their 
energies for the pursuit of fuller and more satisfying forms 
of existence. In addition, then, to his native egoistic impulses 
the individual gradually evolves another set of tendencies, 
those, namely, which enable and prompt him to co-operate 
with his fellows. These, no less than the egoistic impulses 
required for survival, appear as the necessary products 
of the development of the evolutionary process. Spencer 
even goes so far as to suggest that an enlightened scientist 
who was fully conversant with the nature of evolution from 
the first, could have predicted their appearance in advance. 

If man must become a co-operating social being, in 
order that evolutionary development may continue beyond 
the animal level, he must also become an altruistic one. 
Society, to invoke again a simile of Schopenhauer's, is 
like a collection of hedgehog's driven together for the 
sake of warmth; hence the spikes of its members must 
be felted, if the discomfort occasioned by their pressure 
upon one another is not to become intolerable. Manners 
and morals are like a covering of felt which is imposed 
upon the spikes of primitive behaviour, and enable the 
group to cohere without pain to its members. 

Spencer adds that, although the development of social 
sentiments and altruistic motives has the effect of screen- 
ing the individual from the unrestricted incidence of the 
struggle for existence within the group, struggle, which is 
the law of evolution, does not cease, but is transferred 


from the individual to the larger unit of which he is a 
member, and transforms itself into the conflict between 
one group and another. Hence arises the fact of war. 
Now it is dear that whatever qualities make for the success, 
of the group in its conflicts with other groups, will possess 
evolutionary survival-value for the group, in just the same 
way as the primitive egoistic qualities possess evolutionary 
survival-value for die individual. Hence die evolution of 
such qualities as courage, unselfishness, helpfulness, 
loyalty and sympathy; hence, too, the value which the 
community places upon these qualities and the encourage- 
ment which it affords to its members to develop them 
by dignifying them with moral epithets. Good which, from 
the point of view of the individual unit in the evolutionary 
struggle, is whatever makes for equilibrium with environ- 
ment, is from the point of view of the group whatever 
makes for group solidarity and effectiveness. 

Spencer's Conception of Duty* It is a little surprising 
to find the idea of duty intruded into such a philosophy. 
Spencer nevertheless finds a place for it. It is, he holds, a 
man's duty to further and not to obstruct the evolutionary 
process of which he is a part. The ultimate end of this 
process is the production of a happier and better race of 
beings. This end assumes for Spencer the role of an 
absolute. Ethics is, he holds, at present relative and pro- 
visional because man's state is imperfect and transitional; 
but, when the end of the evolutionary process is reached, 
a good will have been evolved which is not relative but 
absolute. In the development of this good it is our duty 
to assist, in so far as in us lies, by furthering the evolution- 
ary process which aims at it. But by what means we can 
help forward this process, how, if We can desire only the 
pleasure which accompanies our own achievement of 
equilibrium, we can also desire something ebc which has 
no connection with our pleasure, namely, the evolution 
of a better and happier humanity, and what meaning, 
on Spencer's premises, we are to assign to the word 


"better", are questions to which no satisfactory answer 
is given. Yet an answer is clearly necessary, especially to 
the last of these questions. If the meaning of "good" 
is fitness to survive, the "best" are presumably the fittest; 
but fittest for what? Presumably, to survive. Why, then, 
should it be "good" to survive? There is no answer. Nor, 
unless we are prepared to assign some meaning to the 
word "good" which is not exhaustively analysable into 
survival value, can there be an answer. 

Ethical Implications of Anthropology. While the 
announcement and popularisation of the theory of evolu- 
tion were chiefly responsible for the development in the 
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of subject ivist 
ethical theories, anthropology exerted an influence in the 
same direction. Anthropologists show how modern notions 
of right and wrong have developed by traceable stages 
from tribal rules, which were demonstrably utilitarian 
in intention. This they point out, was originally held to be 
right, that wrong, because this conduced to, that militated 
against, the welfare of the tribe. The argument from 
origins, 1 is then invoked to show that there is no more in 
moral notions to-day than the considerations of social 
expediency from which they oan be shown to have derived. 
Thus Spencer, who adopted in the first edition of his 
Social Statics the standpoint of a member of the moral 
sense school his attitude here is broadly that of an 
objective intuitionist declares in the second edition, 
published thirty years later, that the study of anthropology 
has convinced him that what is called conscience is merely 
an inherited social sense, which bestows moral approval 
upon that which is socially useful. A similar standpoint 
has been adopted by a number of writers in modern 

Views of Westeimttck* Edward Westermarck for example, 

in & book entitled Tin Origin and Dmlopmtnt of Moral 

Scc Chapter I, pp. 


Ideas, takes the familiar subjectivist view, that, when we 
say X is right, what we mean and all that we mean is 
that we approve of X,' and approve of it because we think 
that it will bring us pleasure. "Every ethical theory, 
he writes, "that regards any course of conduct which 
promotes the attainment of a desired end as good, and any 
course of conduct which obstructs it as bad, is so far in 
agreement with my view that moral judgments are 
ultimately based on emotional reactions against pleasure 
and pain." His reasons for this view are derived from a 
study of social custom. For what communities have habitu- 
ally done over long periods there is gradually, he argues, 
built up a sentiment of approval. Those who depart from 
the accepted code consequently experience feelings of 
guilt analogous to, because derived from, the experiences 
of our ancestors who transgressed a tribal taboo. Now 
tribal taboos were not purely arbitrary. They had a social 
basis in utility, conduct being pronounced to be wrong 
which was prejudicial to tribal welfare or unity. In the course 
of generations customs grew up which embodied socially 
useful conduct, and for those who violate these customs 
men feel an instinctive disapproval, which is directly 
derived from the indignation which members of savage 
societies have been wont to vent upon those who were 
felt to endanger their safety by the transgression of tribal 
taboos. "Custom," writes Westermarck, "is a moral 
rule only on account of the disapproval called forth by 
its transgression. In its ethical aspect it is nothing but a 
generalization of emotional tendencies." In other words, 
we feel an emotion of moral approval for what is customary, 
and what is customary is determined by what was once 
found expedient. 

The final stage of the process is the ethical; it is the stage 
at which we call " good " and " right " that for which we feel 
an emotion of moral approval. Similarly moral disappro- 
bation springs from the desire to inflict pain upon those 
who have offended us, by breaking the rules which we 
have come to regard as right because they are customary. 


If we did not feel indignation at violation of custom, if, 
in other words, we did not automatically react against 
conduct which we instinctively felt to be socially injurious, 
there would be no ethics; for ethics is founded on precisely 
these instinctive reactions of approval and approbation. 
"It is the instinctive desire to inflict counter-pain/' 
Westermarck concludes, "that gives to moral indignation 
its most important characteristic. Without it moral 
condemnation and the ideas of right and wrong would 
never have come into existence." And if we ask how, if 
morality is enly disguised expediency, morality ever came 
to be contrasted with expediency, Westermarck's answer 
is that, although our ancestors originally approved of a 
particular form of conduct because it was useful, we have 
come, in course of time, to forget the reasons why it was 
approved, and to feel approval for the conduct in question 
for its own sake. This answer is based upon the theory of 
the Association of Ideas, of which an account is given 
below. 1 

Durkheim on the Pressure of Social Feeling. 
To illustrate the variations of what, from the point of 
view of ethical theory is broadly the same position, I will 
mention the conclusions of one other writer, Durkheim. 
The essential features of Durkheim's position are those 
with which we are already familiar. Conscience, or the 
moral sense, is utilitarian in origin, but actions originally 
approved for utilitarian reasons have now come to seem 
praiseworthy in and for themselves. The variation in 
which the distinctiveness of Durkheim's view consists 
relates to the role which he attributes to the herd instinct 
in the formation of our moral ideas. The conclusion which 
he seeks to establish is that in primitive societies there is a 
communal sense or instinct which is more than the sum 
total of the separate instincts of its members. This instinc- 
tive sense presses upon and influences the individual; 
"this pressure", he writes I am translating from the 
1 See pp. 380-382. 


French "which is the distinctive feature of social facts 
is that which all exercise upon each". Durkheim, in fact, 
is postulating the existence of a kind of communal 
feeling like the intuitive sense which causes birds to fly 
in flocks, wheel in unison, or migrate at the same time, 
each member of the flock communicating its feeling to 
and so acting upon the others, without being consciously 
aware that it does so. In primitive societies bound together 
by laws of custom and taboo, this communal sense is, 
he points out, particularly strong. Pressing upon the 
individual from without, expressing itself as a series of 
promptings and impulses from within, it determines his 
views upon religion, politics and morals. What is sacred, 
what is due, what is fitting, what is right all these con- 
cepts are determined for the individual by the social sense 
of the tribe. Now the social sense of the tribe is, in its 
origin, determined by utilitarian considerations. It approves 
whatever is, or at least was once, recognized to be beneficial 
for the tribe; propitiates what is felt to be dangerous; 
disapproves of what is seen to be harmful. Hence 
the effect of the pressure of social feeling is to cause the 
individual to feel and act in such a way as to conduce to 
the preservation of society and the promotion of its welfare. 
But that the preservation of society and the promotion 
of its welfare are at once the effect and the justification 
of their moral feelings and actions is not apparent to 
those who feel morally and do their duty, since they have 
forgotten, if they ever knew, what is the justification of 
those impulses of approval and disapproval, what the 
source of those promptings to action, which for them 
make up the content of morality. 

Summary of Subjectivist Theories. This chapter has 
covered a considerable amount of ground and brought 
together under the common heading of subjectivist theories 
of ethics views which have been put forward at different 
times by very various writers. For the convenience of 
readers who wish to obtain a general survey of those 


features which are both peculiar, and common to the 
various views surveyed in the later part of this chapter, 
I append a passage taken from Lowes Dickinson's book 
After Two Thousand Tears, 1 which admirably summarizes 
the distinctive contentions of Subjectivism. This passage 
appeals in support of Subjectivism to the results of recent 
sciences such as biology and anthropology, and indicates 
the reasons which have seemed to many to operate con- 
clusively against objective or absolutist theories of ethics. 

"PLATO: You reject, then, the position which I remember 
finding, in Athens, the most difficult to refute, that 
of the sceptics who deny that there are any standards 
prescribing Goods for everybody, or 'in themselves', 
or whatever you would say, but only the opinions of 
any individual man as to what he does in fact judge it 
best to pursue. Have you no such school now? 

PHILALETHSS: In my own country, as I have already 
said, we are not philosophers, and it is impossible to 
say what views people do really hold. But I should 
say, from my own observation, that many of us do 
in practice accept the sceptical view, so far and so 
long as it spells advantage to ourselves; but if, or 
when, it is turned against us by others, we fall back 
on standards, declare our opponents to be immoral 
men, and do our best to have them punished. 

PLATO: Men's thoughts, so far as I can learn from you, 
have not changed very much since my time. For 
our sophists used to argue that a strong man, though 
he would not accept the conventions of morality, 
might support them as applied to others. 'They may 
be useful to me,' he would admit, 'and so far must 
be defended, but I may always break them, if this 
use should cease.' 

PHILALETHES: Your sophists were more dear in their 
minds than are ordinary men. But many people do 
certainly act on some such view. 

1 See Chapter HI, p. 81, for an account of this book. 

378 ITHXOS \ 

PLATO: And what could you reply, if a sophist put tkat 
view into words? 

PHILALETHES: I should bring up arguments from history 
and biology rather than from philosophy. I should 
point out that common standards are earlier and more 
natural than individualistic self-interest. I should 
point to ftniiPfllg living in herds and to communities 
of insects, antf show how all these creatures serve not 
themselves but the society, having not indeed a 
common ethical system, for we assume them not to 
think, but a common rule of life. And what we find 
in these creatures, I should add, we find also in the 
most primitive communities of men. They live under 
rules which it has never occurred to them to challenge. 
So that the common observance, which shows itself 
later as a convention, is the original fact, and has 
more authority, therefore, in the nature of things, 
than the egoistic perversion which grows up later 
like a disease, among men who have strayed from 
the natural atmosphere of the herd in which they 
alone can breathe healthily. 

PLATO: Your egoists must be less convinced and perti- 
nacious than ours if they are silenced by such argu- 
ments. For my young men, made subtle as they were 
by the sophists, would certainly have replied, that 
insects and animals and primitive communities were 
no law for them, that civilization means precisely 
escape from such base and slavish, conditions, and 
that, if standards can in fact be denied, it is absurd 
to pretend that they ought not to be, merely because 
some primitive and savage creatures had not yet 
learnt how restrictive they are upon the splendour 
and force of noble individuals. 1 

PHILALETHES: If that line were adopted, I should reply 
that standards are as necessary to self-preservation 
in civilized as in primitive societies. For no individual 
can stand by himself. If his property, his contracts, 

'SeeCbftpterXVI, pp. 629-637 for a development of thU position. 


his life and person are to be secure, he must submit 
to rules; and if he breaks them, then, sooner or later, 
they will break him, as example after example is 
continually proving. 

PLATO: At that point my sophist will return to his old 
argument. He will say: Yes, it may pay us to observe 
standards, but we observe them only if and because 
it pays us. If, by any chance, in any matter, we can 
safely elude them, to our own advantage, we shall 
certainly do so, and think it right to do so." 

Statement of the Obvious Objection to any Form of 
Subjectivism. There is a certain rather obvious objection 
which, throughout the course of the foregoing exposition, 
may well have presented itself to the reader's mind. It 
is as follows. If human beings are by nature purely egoistical, 
as Hobbes and Spinoza maintained, in the sense that 
they desire only their own pleasure, and pursue only their 
own advantage, how do moral notions arise? Even if 
we agree with Hume that egoistic motives are not the 
only motives by which human beings are animated, and 
that people also acknowledge benevolent motives in the 
sense that they approve of what promotes the pleasure of 
others and try themselves to promote it, the question still, 
given subjectivist premises, presses for an answer. For it 
is not a satisfactory answer to say, as Hume does, that we 
call moral whatever evokes an emotion of approval in 
most of us, or, as Spencer would say, whatever enables 
us to reach equilibrium with our environment, or whatever 
helps us to survive, or, as Durkheim would say, whatever 
enables society to hold together. For, our question persists, 
why do we call these pleasurable, advantageous, expedient, 
survival-promoting, organism-adjusting, or society*main- 
taining modes of behaviour mor/d? Why, in fact, introduce 
such notions as good and bad, moral and immoral, at all? 
To this question there are various answers. There is the 
answer which is contained in Mill's account of virtue,' 
i See Chapter IX, pp. 338, 339. 


or that entailed by Hobbes's account of pity, 1 or 
that suggested by Spencer's account of the cooperative 
sentiment,* All these answers have this in common, they 
derive an ethical sentiment from a non-ethical source, 
maintaining in effect that the virtue of unselfishness and 
the approval which we feel for it are inherited versions 
of dispositions and emotions which were once grounded 
in expediency or utility. It is upon the validity of this 
answer that subjectivist ethics must stand or fall. Its 
validity is, therefore, a matter of some importance and 
the case for it deserves to be presented in its classical form. 
In this form it is known as the theory of Association of 
Ideas. It was advanced by Hartley and James Mill; it 
was adopted by J. S. Mill his account of the origin of 
virtue already described is a particular example of its 
application and, as it presents fully and comprehensively 
the considerations which have hitherto been introduced 
casually and incidentally, I propose to give a brief summary 
of it as the theory which provides the most satisfactory 
account, within the framework of the subjectivist hypo- 
thesis, of the feeling of moral obligation, of altruism and of 

The Theory of the Association of Ideas. The follow- 
ing is the form in which the theory was enunciated by 
Hartley (1705-1757) in his bode Observations on Man. 
Hartley's purpose is to reconcile a subjective utilitarian 
theory of ethics, according to which we call right those 
actions which promote our own pleasure, with the existence 
of a moral sense, with the divine creation of the universe, 
and the day-to-day influence of the divine creator upon 
men's souls. Hartley begins by accepting the hedonist 
premise that we desire only pleasant sensations and 
approve of whatever affonji them to us. In course of time, 
however, we forget why we approved of the thing, what- 
ever it may be, that affords the pleasant sensations and 
begin to approve of the thing in and for itself. As an 
l Sce Chapter VI, p. 185* 'See above, pp. 370, 371. 


illustration of this process of transference of approval, the 
case of the miser is cited. The miser, like everybody else, 
begins by desiring money for the sake of the things that 
money can buy, which, in their turn, he desires for the 
sake of the pleasant sensations which their possession or 
enjoyment induce in him. He then begins to associate the 
pleasure given by the things bought by ntoney with the 
money itself, and so, finally, he comes to desire the money 
because of its association with pleasure. This result is 
commonly described by the statement that he comes to 
desire money for itself. The miser's case is an illustration 
of a transference of emotion due to association which, in 
Hartley's view, is constantly occurring. 

Hartley's Hierarchy of Motives. Hartley establishes 
what he calls a hierarchy of motives. In this hierarchy, the 
initial motive and the lowest, is the desire for pleasant 
sensations; prpmpted by this motive we perform those 
actions which we think will produce them. In course of 
time, through habitually performing those actions which 
we think will induce pleasant sensations, we come to forget 
why we were led to perform them. Our motive at this 
stage is to perform the actions in and for themselves. Thus 
we come to approve for their own sake of courses of conduct 
and types of character which we originally approved of 
because they promoted our pleasure. 

This refining process, as Hartley calls it, goes a stage 
further. Passing through the phases of ambition, imagina- 
tion and self-interest, it proceeds to the establishment of 
the three highest values. These arc sympathy or care for 
others, the moral sense, and what Hartley calls "theo- 
pathy". Each of these highest values is now valued in 
and for itself; yet, originally, each was valued because 
of the pleasure which men derived from the activity or 
emotion which it evoked. Sympathy, for example, was 
valued because, other people's suffering caused us pain; 
morality, because men derived pleasure from the contem- 
plation of certain kinds of character, and profit from the 


performance by others of certain kinds of action; and 
"theopathy", or feeling for God, because, since God is 
the source of all good things, every " association of pleasure " 
will have for its centre God's nature. Thus the love of God 
is implied at the very lowest stage of Hartley's hierarchy 
of motives in love of pleasure, and is in fact the love of 
pleasure made explicit. Each rung in this ladder of motives 
is, as it were, formed out of the preceding rungs, as a 
miser's motive, money for its own sake, is constituted from 
his motive, things which money can buy, which is itself 
constituted from the motive, pleasant sensations resulting 
from possession and enjoyment of the things that money 
can buy. Applied to the case of ethics, the analysis is put 
forward as a demonstration of the way in which, what 
are apparently ethical sentiments, love of virtue for its 
own sake, the feeling of moral obligation, or the approval 
of unselfishness, arise on the basis of a purely egoistical 


#HOBBES, THOMAS. Leviathan. 
MAHDEVILLE, BERNARD. The Fable of the Beet. 
SPINOZA, BARUCH. Ethics (Everyman edition), especially Parts 

III and IV. 

HUME, DAVID. Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morali. 
FrpQltttifffiGry Et/ttcs* 
SPENCER, HERBERT. Social Statics. Principles of Ethics, especially 

Part I, Data of Ethics. 
STEPHEN, LESLIE. The Science of Ethics. 

WESTBRMARCK, E. The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas. 
HOBHOUSE, L. T. Morals in Evolution. 
HARTLEY, DAVID. Observations on Man. 
MILL, JAMES. An Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. 
SAMUEL, SIR HERBERT. Practical Ethics (Home University 

Library), is a good modern statement of the lubjcctivist 

point of view. 




Plan of Ensuing Discussion. The preceding exposi- 
tion has been a lengthy one and has left a number of 
loose threads which, in the present chapter, I shall try 
to gather together. One of the most important is the 
question raised by the philosophy of Hedonism. Is pleasure 
the only object of desire, or, as it is sometimes stated, is 
pleasure the sole good? Or are both these contentions fake? 
These questions have presented themselves on a number 
of occasions in other connections, and are now entitled 
to be considered on their merits. If there seem to be good 
reasons for thinking that other things are good beside 
pleasure, the question arises, what is their nature? The 
discussion in this chapter and the next will, accordingly, 
fall into three parts; first, a survey of the results of the 
examination of ethical theories in the preceding chapters; 
secondly, a discussion of Hedonism; thirdly, the outline 
of a positive theory of good, or, to use the term which 
I prefer, of value. 


A. Criticism of Subjectivist Theories 

It is, I think, clear that none of the theories hitherto 
considered is completely satisfactory. To begin with the 
subjectivist theories outlined in the last chapter, it can, 
I think, be shown that any subjectivist theory of ethics is 
exposed to serious objections. Of these I will mention 


JBCTIVISTS. In the first place, the onus of proof lies 
throughout on the subjcctivists. If I say, "This chessboard, 
X, is square" my statement may mean either (i) X has 
a certain property which causes sensation of squareness 
in most men who look at it, or (ii) most men will have 
the sensation of squareness when they look at X. What 
I certainly intend to assert is (i), although by means of 
a subtle philosophical analysis it can be shown that all 
that I am really asserting is (ii). In face, however, of my 
manifest intention to assert (i) and my strong belief that 
I am in fact doing so, the onus of proof is clearly laid on 
those who wish to maintain that what my statement 
really means is (ii). 

Similarly, the assertions "X is a right action" or "X 
is a good man " may mean either (i) X has a certain property 
such that it will cause most people who consider it or him 
to feel a sentiment of moral approval, or (ii) most men will 
experience the emotion of moral approval when they 
consider X. Now there is not the slightest doubt in my 
mind that, when I say "X is a right action" or "X is a 
good man", what I mean to assert is (i) ; I mean, that is to 
say, to assert that X is characterized by a certain property 
of rightneas which belongs to it, or by a certain property 
of goodness which belongs to him. If the subjectivists are 
right, I do not mean that X has this property, for I am 
not in point of fact making a statement about X at all. 
What I am stating is that most men in certain circum- 
stances will experience a certain emotion. 

Now I do not for a moment believe that I am, in fact, 
saying this. The onus of proof is, therefore, I repeat, on 
the subjcctivist to prove to me that I am. This he does 
not do; indeed, most of the arguments that he gives in 
favour of his position appear to be faulty. In particular, 
he gives no good reason for supposing that, when I say 
"X is a right action" or "X is a good man", I am not 
making what I am certainly purporting to make, namely, 
some assertion about X, but am in fact talking about 


something different, namely, the emotions which in certain 
circumstances will be experienced by a number of people. 
The subjectivism in short, gives no good reason for his 
view that goodness is not an independent quality of things; 
he simply announces his own inability to perceive it. 
Thus in his book General Theory of Values^ Professor Perry, 
a leading American exponent of subjectivist ethics, writes: 

" There can be only one proof of the existence of a 
perceptual quality, and that is the perception of it. One 
who upholds this view of good must be prepared to point 
to a distinct quale" (quality) "which appears in that 
region which our value terms roughly indicate and which 
is different from the object's shape and size, from the 
interrelation of its parts, from its relation to other objects 
or to the subject and from all the other factors which 
belong to the same context but which are designated by 
the words other than good. The present writer for one 
finds no such residuum." 

The question here at issue involves a straightforward 
test of observation. Professor Perry says that he can 
discover no such quality as good in any of the things 
which he experiences. I believe very strongly that I do; 
and so, apparently, do most people. If they do not, if 
they use the word "good " without any distinctive meaning, 
it is difficult to see why they should have invented it. 
Since, therefore, Professor Perry's view challenges the 
common experience of mankind, he should provide us 
with good reasons for it. But beyond the report of his own 
observation, none is provided. 

chief reason usually advanced in favour of subjectivist 
theories is derived from the relativity of moral notions. 
People in all ages have called different actions right and 
have bestowed moral approval upon different qualities 
and characters. What is more, what they think right, what 
they call moral, has, as we saw in the last chapter, a definite 

<j86 ETHICS 

and ascertainable relation to non-ethical factors. Thus I 
may and probably will call right the kind of conduct 
which, in general, is advantageous to me personally, which 
conduces to my pleasure, or which assist! my survival; 
or, again, I may and probably will call that kind of 
conduct right which is advantageous to my class or my 
country or to the governors of my country; or again, 
since there is a time lag before moral notions catch up 
with social needs, which was one* advantageous to my 
class or my country or to the governors of my country, 
and of which, after a long period of approval by my 
ancestors, I have an inherited instinct to approve as a 
part of my initial psychological make-up. The conclusion 
is that, when I say "X is right", I do not mean that X 
has an objective characteristic of tightness which is 
independent of my approval; I mean only that a certain 
person, or certain persons approve of it* 

These arguments do not, however, establish the con- 
clusion assarted. What they show is that people have 
always evinced a disposition to call some things right 
and some things good or moral, what they will call right, 
what good or moral, depending upon circumstances. Hie 
argument shows, in . other words, that circumstances 
determine people's views about right and good and 
morality; it does not show that circumstances determine 
what is right and good and moral. Nor, unless we are 
to suppose that people's views on these matters are views 
about nothing, does it show that there are no such things 
as right and good and morality for people to have views 
about. If, indeed, there were no such things as fight and 
good and morality, then in using such expressions as 
"this is right", "he is good", "that is moral" we should 
be nryHrifw Tfy^^^gfcff nottfu. 

An analogy which I have already given 1 in another 

connection may help to elucidate the point. Let us suppose 

that I am trying to guess the temperature of a room; 

thai the guess which I make will be dependent upon and 

1 See Chapter V, pp. 161, i6ft. 


relative to circumstances prevailing in myielf. In other 
words, what I estimate the temperature of the room to 
be will be determined by personal considerations. But this 
fact does not show that the room does not possess a 
temperature in its own right; nor does it show that, when - 
I make my estimate of it, my estimate refers to nothing 
at all. In other words, nobody would deduce from the 
fact that I guessed the temperature of the room to be 
75 Fahrenheit, while somebody else guessed it to be 
70 Fahrenheit, that we were both of us making state- 
ments about events that were taking place in ourselves 
and were not in fact saying something about the room 
and its temperature. Indeed, if the room had no tem- 
perature in its own right, it would be difficult to under- 
stand how we were ever led to make judgments about it. 
Similarly, the fact that my judgments of right and good 
are different from those of other people differently circum- 
stanced, and the further fact that my judgments are 
obviously determined by conditions of time and place 
and country and class and culture, all of which are personal 
conditions, do not justify the conclusion that, when I 
say "X is right" or "X is good", I am in fact making 
a statement about myself, and am not saying something, 
whether true or false, about X and its ethical characteristics. 
Indeed, if there were no such things as ethical charac- 
teristics, it would be impossible to explain how we ever 
came to make judgments which postulated them and 
ascribed them to actions and persons. 

further point If Subjectivism is correct, "X is good"' 
means "X produces a feeling of approval in me", or 
"X conduces to my advantage". It means, in fact, "X 
is pleasant", or "X is expedient", or "X is useful". 

But if "X is good", or "X is right" means the same 
as "X is pleasant", or "X is expedient", or "X is useful", 


how did the distinction between good and right, on the 
one handy and expedient and pleasant and useful, on the 
other, ever come to be made? There is not the slightest 
doubt that in ordinary life we do habitually make this 
distinction. "This," we say, "is what I should like to do, 
because it is pleasant; but that is what I ought to do, 
because it is right/' Or we say "X is a pleasantcr com- 
panion, but he is not such a good man as Y." If what 
is good or right is, in the last resort, exhaustively 
analysable into what is expedient or pleasant or useful, it 
is impossible to explain how the distinction came to be 
made. It seems reasonable, then, to suppose that the words 
"good" and "right" stand for concepts which we specifi- 
cally distinguish from those denoted by the words 
"pleasant", "expedient", and "useful". 

It is not difficult to show by a logical argument that 
the word "good" has not precisely the same meaning 
as any other word. 

(i) Let us suppose that I hold that the word "good" 
means the same as the word "pleasant", or the word 
"expedient", or the word "useful", or the words "what 
is approved of by me". Then there will be nothing in the 
concept "good" beyond "pleasant", or "expedient", or 
"useful", or "approved of by me". Therefore, when the 
word "good" occurs in a sentence, I can substitute one 
of these other words without change of meaning. 

(ii) Let us now consider such a statement as, "good is 
what is approved of by me". This statement, whether it 
is true or false, is at least meaningful, and being meaningful 
it is discussible. I am in fact discussing it at the moment. 

(iii) Adopting the conclusion of (i), I will now write 
for the word "good" in the sentence "good is what is 
approved of by me" die words "approved of by me". The 
sentence then reads, "What is approved of by me is what 
is approved of by me." This sentence is not discussible, 


since it is a tautology. Thus the sentence, "What is ap- 
proved of by me is what is approved of by me" cannot 
mean the same as the sentence, "good is what is approved 
of by me". Therefore, good does not mean the same as 
what is approved of by me. By similar methods it can be 
shown that the meaning of good cannot be exactly equated 
with the meaning of any other word. 

That the Subjectivist Methods of Meeting Objections 
are Unsatisfactory. (i) HUME'S METHOD. Sub- 
jectivists have endeavoured in various ways to meet the 
difficulties to which I have referred. Uneasy at the sug- 
gestion that they are making the difference between good 
and bad purely one of taste good is that which I happen 
to approve of, if you happen to approve of something 
different, then that is good for you; good, therefore, 
means only "good for me" or "good for you" they 
have endeavoured to modify the extreme subjectivist 
position by the introduction of some objective test. 

One such endeavour, that of Hume, was mentioned in 
the last chapter. By a right action, Hume says, we mean 
one of which most men approve. This is not a purely 
subjectivist position, for it does not make the distinction 
between right and wrong purely a matter of taste; it makes 
it a matter of fact. If, on this view, the majority of those 
who consider an action X feel an emotion of approval 
for it, then X is right; if not, not. This is to reduce the 
difference between right and wrong to a question of 
statistics: we decide the issue by counting heads. Now it 
is, I think, clear that whatever may be the true account 
of the matter, this theory must be wrong. What I mean 
to assert, when I say of an action that it is right, is no doubt 
highly controversial; but I am perfectly certain that ] 
do not mean to assert that I believe that a bare majority 
of those who consider it would be found to approve o; 
it. I conclude that endeavours made on these lines tc 
meet the objections brought against Subjectivism an 

39O ' v ETHICS 

ASSOCIATION OF IDEAS. Another familiar method 
of meeting the difficulties of Subjectivism is to argue 
from origins and the Association of Ideas* What is the 
land of objection that the subjectivist has to meet? Most 
of us do undoubtedly honour a virtuous man apart 
from his usefulness to ourselves, and apart also from the 
way in which at any given moment he may happen to 
behave; we do feel that we ought to do our duty inde- 
pendently of the results of so doing; we do indubitably 
have experiences, when, for example, we acknowledge 
the pull of moral obligation, which are perceptibly different 
from the experiences involved in calculations of expediency. 
How, then, are we to account for these admitted facts of 
experience, of apparently distinctive experience, on a 
subjectivist basis? The usual line of argument is that which 
is based upon the Association of Ideas. Very briefly, the 
argument is as follows. It is admitted that there exist 
to-day what are called ethical sentiments, but they have 
developed from non-ethical sentiments in the past. Our 
ancestors performed a certain class of action, X, because 
they produced pleasant consequences to themselves, or 
contributed to die well-being of the community. They 
honoured a certain kind of character, Y, because courage, 
for example, or loyalty were useful to the tribe. In other 
words, they performed X and honoured Y, because X-like 
actions and Y-like characters were expedient or useful 
in the sense that they tended to produce pleasant sen- 
sations in most people. When, over a considerable period, 
people had performed X-like actions and honoured Y-like 
characters for these reasons, the disposition to perform X 
and to honour Y became stamped into the consciousness 
of members of the community, and presently began to 
appear as an inherited instinct. We now, therefore, have 
an inherited disposition to perform X-like actions and 
honour Y-like characters; we fed, that is to say, an 
obligation to do our duty for its own sake and an intuition of 
the intrinsic value of certain character traits, only because 


we have forgotten the reasons, the non-ethical reasons, 
which lie at the basis of and justify our feelings of obliga- 
tion and approval. Mill's treatment of virtue is a good 
example of this mode of reasoning 1 . The conclusion is that 
line of thought is not capable of direct disproof; two 
considerations may, however, be mentioned. 


Objections to Resolution of Ethical Sentiments into 
Non-Ethical Factors. (i) The first was developed at 
some length in the discussion in a previous chapter of 
the various meanings of the expression "the nature of 
a thing. 1 The conclusion of that discussion was briefly 
that there is more in a growing or developing thing than 
is to be found in its origins and that to give a full account 
of it we must, therefore, take into consideration its fruits 
as well as its roots. A thing, in short, is at any given moment 
of its development more than the sum total of the factors 
that produced it. If it were not, it would not be a developing 

What is the application to ethics? Let us suppose that 
it could be successfully demonstrated that our feelings 
in regard to duty and our respect for goodness are senti- 
ments whose origin may be traced to non-ethical con- 
siderations of expediency and pleasantness. That does not 
prove that there is no more in these sentiments than 
expediency and pleasantness now. There is no evidence 
for the implied assumption that the mature state of a 
developing thing contains no more than its origins and is, 
therefore, exhaustively analysable into its origins. 

(tt) But can we make the supposition? Can we, that is 
to say, countenance the assumption that our feelings 
in regard to duty and our respect for goodness do derive 
from non-ethical considerations; that, in other words, out 
of purely non-ethical elements we can obtain ethical 
compounds. The question at issue is analagous to such 
questions as, can we from a combination of non-coloured 
atoms and electrons obtain coloured objects? Questions of 

1 See Chapter IX, pp. 338, 339- See Chapter I, pp. 30-34. 


this kind belong to metaphysics rather than to ethics, 
and cannot be pursued here. It in, however, pertinent to 
point out that the assumption that ethical sentiments do 
arise out of entirely non-ethical considerations presupposes 
that there was a time when human beings acknowledged 
no ethical motives. It presupposes, that is to say, that there 
was a time when the distinction between "X is good" 
and "X is pleasant" or "X is expedient" was never made, 
for the reason that nobody ever judged disinterestedly "X 
is good". Now there must, on this assumption, have been 
a moment in the history of mankind when the distinction 
first came to be made* But why did it come to be made, if 
it is meaningless? If the arguments given in (c) above 
lead us to reject the view that the distinction is meaningless 
now, they are equally valid against the assumption that 
it was ever meaningless at any time. In other words, the 
argument from orgins merely puts the awkward problem 
of accounting for the distinction between goodness and 
expediency back in point of time; it does not solve it 

The above are some of the reasons for rejecting the view 
that the statement "X is good" is ever exhaustively 
analysable into "X produces feelings of approval in certain 
minds". They are, that is to say, reasons for rejecting any 
completely subjectivist analysis. 

B. Criticism of Intuitionist Theories 

Objectivc-intuitionist theories have already been 
criticized at length in Chapter VIII. Broadly, the criticism 
fell into three parts. First, the deliverances of the moral 
sense are too capricious and too arbitrary to afford a 
reliable guide to the difference between right and wrong. 
Moreover, they are usually determined by non-ethical 
considerations; in point of fact, by precisely those considera- 
tions upon which the subjectivist rightly lays emphasis, 
but which he falsely believes to justify a subjectivist inter- 
pretation of the meaning of right and wrong. Although the 
word "right " does not mean the same as "what some person 


or persons approve of", what a man calls right will very 
largely depend upon what he docs happen to approve of, 
and to approve of in the vast majority of cases for non- 
ethical reasons. We cannot, then, simply trust to people's 
intuitions of right and wrong to determine what is right and 
wrong, if only because, to do so, would be to admit that 
the *ame action can be both right and wrong at the same 
time. Secondly, if the faculty by means of which moral 
judgments are passed and the performance of duty is 
motivated is feeling or is akin to feeling, it is difficult to 
escape from the conclusion that its deliverances are deter- 
mined. Moral freedom, is, therefore, an illusion and ethics 
falls to the ground. 

Thirdly, if the deliverances of the faculty by means of 
which moral judgments are passed are to be exonerated 
from the charge of being purely arbitrary, the faculty 
must be credited with some admixture of reason. If it 
is to be reasonable in deliverance, it must be reasonable in 
nature. Now reason refuses to admit that we can isolate 
actions as the objects of ethical judgment. Reason judges 
about a whole situation including motives, actions and con- 
sequences; It insists, in particular, that consequences must 
be taken into account, if only because the political and 
legal systems of mankind would be rendered nugatory if 
we were to concede that motive was sufficient to establish 
ethical worth. As Dr. Johnson said when criticizing the 
views of Rousseau, who held that motive alone was the con- 
cern of moral judgment: "Sir, that will not do. We cannot 
prove any man's intention to be bad. You may shoot a man 
through the head, and say you intended to miss him; 
but the judge will order you to be hanged. An alleged 
want of intention, when evil is committed, will not be 
allowed in a court of justice. Rousseau, Sir, is a very bad 
man. I would sooner sign a sentence for his transportation, 
than that of any felon who has gone from the Old Bailey 
these many years." In other words, actual consequences 
must be considered. 

This is not to say that intended consequences, do net 



count. Since, however, it is a man's duty to see that the 
remits of his actions have some relation to what it might 
have been reasonable to expect, reason also insists that 
the good man must be, at least to some extent, a reasoning 
man. Therefore although intuitions may, and indeed do, lie 
at the bases of all bonafib ethical judgments, Objective- 
Inflationism in its traditional form cannot be accepted. 

C Criticism of Utilitarian Theories 



tarian theories have been indicated in Chapter IX 1 , They 
are broadly three. First, Utilitarianism makes no provision 
for die fact that some states of mind and the actions which 
proceed from them are accounted valuable, independently 
of their results, by the moral consciousness of mankind. 
While admitting the intuitions of the popular moral 
consciousness to tins effect, utilitarians arc inclined to explain 
them as the inherited versions of utilitarian principles 
whose justifications have been forgotten.* The attitude and 
behaviour of the resolute torturcc 1 is on their view only 
approved now because a similar attitude and a similar 
behaviour once had, or were liable to have, socially 
beneficial consequences; they also insist that intuitions are 
not enough and that ethical issues must in the last resort 
be decided by reason. 

These contentions involve a confusion between two differ* 
ent questions. The assertion that reason must be the arbiter 
in ethical matters may be accepted, if it means that it is 
to reason that, in the last resort, we must look to determine 
what ethical principles should be adopted and what 
ethical conclusions established. The raw material which 
the deliverances of the moral consciousness provide lor 

*8ee Chapter DC, pp. 340-347* 

, 339, OhmptcrX, pp. 374, 380-382, mnd the 

on p. 300 a 
See Chapter DC, pp. 346, 347. 


investigation can, in other words, be treated by reason 
just as the raw material of any science is treated by reason, 
the function of reason being to clarify this raw material, 
and to derive from it principles of conduct. But it does not, 
therefore, follow that the raw material or subject matter of 
ethical reasoning, that, in other words, about which reason 
reasons, is itself provided by reason. It does not even follow 
that it is in the strict sense of the word reasonable. The raw 
material of ethics is provided by the deliverances of man's 
moral consciousness; these are the subject matter for 
theorizing in ethics, just as the behaviour of matter is 
the iuBject matter for theorizing in physics. Consequently, 
we can neither ignore ethical intuitions, nor is there any 
court of appeal other than the deliverances of the moral 
consciousness of mankind to which we can turn for a 
decision on matters of conduct which are in dispute. 
The utilitarians do not in fact ignore intuitions. It is, for 
example, as we have seen, 1 to the popular consciousness 
that they turn for their first premise that pleasure, and 
pleasure alone, is desirable. 

second criticism of Objective Utilitarianism is that although 
it explicitly disavows them, Utilitarianism no less than 
Intuitionism, entails the acceptance of intuitions. The 
fact, explicitly recognized by the most clearheaded of 
the utilitarians, Sidgwick, is admitted grudgingly, or not at 
all, by Mill and JBentham, who look askance at intuitions 
as the source of lazy thinking and obscurantist conclusion. 
But if the validity of ultimate and, as I have ventured to 
call them, indefensible intuitions is to be admitted, what 
justification is there for limiting our intuitions to thote which 
are explicitly or implicitly recognized by the utilitarians? I 
have just drawn attention to the existence of what appears to 
be a widespread intuition to the effect that certain attitudes 
of mind and the actions proceeding therefrom are valuable 
See Chapter IX, pp. 344, 345* 


independently of their consequences. But having opened the 
door to intuitions, we cannot now close it. For what account 
are we to give of the* methods by means of which we assess 
the value of consequences? A right action, the utilitarians 
assert, is the one which, of all those which it was possible 
for the agent to do, has the best consequences. What axp 
the best consequences? We can answer only if we are pre- 
pared to make some affirmation about what is good; 
good, that is to say, for its own sake and in itself. How are 
we to determine what is good in this sense? If the argument 
which was used to establish the existence of ultimate values 
in Chapter V is valid, 1 we can do so only by means of a 
direct intuition. The effect of Utilitarianism is thus to 
transfer the sphere in which intuitions occur from that of 
right to that of good. 

our third criticism is that, except in Sidgwick's Methods 
of Ethics, there is no adequate discussion of the nature 
of good in the writings of the utilitarians. Bentham con- 
sistently, Mill inconsistently, maintains that the sole good 
is pleasure. Sidgwick, after a searching examination, comes 
to the same conclusion, but qualifies his conclusion by 
intuitions to the effect that the pleasure which we ought to 
try to promote is that of others, no less than of 
ourselves. Can this conclusion be accepted? Is it in fact 
true that pleasure is the sole ultimate good? 


A. Statement of Psychological Hedonism 

Of the philosophy that maintains that pleasure is the 
sole good there are many variants. There is, first, the 
view (A) that we are so constituted that we can only 
1 See Chapter V, pp. 166-170. 


desire our own pleasure; there is, secondly, the view 
(B) that we can desire other things, but that we ought 
only to desire our own pleasure, since only our own 
pleasure is good; and there is the view (C) that we ought 
to desire the greatest amount, of pleasure on the whole 
or, alternatively, the greatest pleasure of the greatest 
number, on the ground that all pleasure is good* I have 
already tried to show 1 that views (B) and (C) are in- 
consistent with view (A), since, if we can only desire our 
own pleasure it is nonsense to say that we ought to do 
so, or that we ought to desire the greatest pleasure of the 
greatest number. I do not think, however, that any one of 
these three variants of the pleasure philosophy is tenable. 
Many of the objections to which they are exposed have 
already been indicated. I shall, therefore, here content myself 
with a summary statement before proceeding to criticism. 

AND THE MARTYR. I will begin with the doctrine 
that men are so constituted that they can only desire their 
own pleasure. Of this doctrine which is usually known as 
Psychological Hedonism, there is, so far as I know, no 
logical disproof. Moreover, it can be rendered exceedingly 
plausible; how plausible can be shown by examining one 
or two cases in which people apparently act from motives 
which contradict the doctrine, and then analysing these 
motives on hedonist lines. 

Let us, for example, suppose that two children, B a 
little boy, and G a little girl, are each presented with five 
shillings at Christmas. B, aiming only at his own immediate 
pleasure, spends his five shillings on sweets, gorges them, 
and is sick. Elderly relatives censure him for selfishness 
and tead him homilies on gluttony, G, however, spends 
her five shillings on presents for the elderly relatives and 
is duly praised for unselfishness and willingness to put 
the pleasures of other people before her own* If her action 
can be taken at its face value, Psychological Hedonism 
1 Sec Chapter IX, pp. 334* 335- 


is obviously untrue* But can it? Assuredly! the hedonist 
would aigue, it cannot; for (a).G, who is of a calculating 
disposition, anticipates a return in kind from the elderly 
relatives. They arc richer than she is: therefore she is likely 
to obtain more benefits in the long run from propitiating 
them, enlisting their favour on her behalf, and putting 
them under the obligation to reward her, than from a 
direct expenditure of the five shillings on herself. 

(I) Little girls are apt to be complacent; they are also 
given to priggishness. They enjoy the satisfactions of feeling 
virtuous, bask in the sunshine of other*' approval, and 
delightedly snuff up the odours of good reputation. The 
implied contrast with B, a contrast which her elders cannot 
help but draw, is moreover not without its effect. There- 
fore G acts as she does, because she prefers the pleasures 
of social approval to those of sweet-eating. 

(c) "If this explanation be thought too cynical," the 
hedonist may say, "let us begin by conceding that G is 
by nature vw^fifh and benevolent. Now we should 
normally describe an unselfish and benevolent person as 
one who likes to give pleasure to others. To gratify one's 
wishes is always pleasant; hence to gratify the wish to 
give pleasure to others may be a source of more pleasure 
to the self than the direct gratification of the more obvious 
appetites of the self. Or, should the short statement of the 
case be preferred, the giving of pleasure to others is die 
unselfish person's most direct form of gratification. Which- 
ever of these explanations is adopted, G is aiming at her 
own greatest pleasure no less directly than B is aiming 
at hit." 

As another illustration of conduct, which at first sight 
appears to disprove the contentions of Psychological 
Hedonism, let us consider hi a little more detail, with a 
view to an analysis on hedonist lines, the case of the 
hypothetical martyr already cited in Chapter II 1 who 
goes to the stake for his opinions. Admittedly, he does 
not at first right appear to be aiming at his own greatest 
*See Oapter II, p. 47. 


pleasure. "But," says the hedonist, "appearances are 
deceptive. To begin with, most martyrs have been men 
endowed with a strong histrionic sense, and have accord* 
ingly derived the greatest possible pleasure from occupying 
the centre of the stage. Now a martyr is at least assured 
of the limelight, even if the limelight is hot as well as 
bright Again, martyrs are notoriously men of iron deter- 
mination or, as I should prefer to put it, of pigheaded 
obstinacy. All self-willed men like getting their own way; 
in fact, they like it so much that they insist on it, even if, 
in the course of doing so, they have to put up with the 
pain of being burned. When the pain actually begins, 
they probably realize their mistake; realize, that is to say, 
that they have made a mistake as to what will give them 
the greatest pleasure in the long run. But by that time it 
is too late to rectify the mistake. 

"More important, perhaps, is the consideration that most 
martyrs have been men of strong religious convictions 
who believed that they would be eternally damned, if 
they proved false to their religious beliefs and bowed the 
knee to Rome or to Satan or to Baal, or to whomever or 
whatever happened at the time to be regarded as the 
symbol of wickedness and error. Consequently, the choice, 
as it appeared to them, was a choice between being roasted 
for fifteen minutes in an earthly fire and being roasted 
for eternity in an infernal one. To opt for the former was, 
therefore, merely common prudence. Finally, if these 
reflections be regarded as involving a too cynical view of 
human nature, I will put my case in the most straight- 
forward manner possible by pointing out to you that the 
martyr, a steadfast and conscientious man, suffers more 
from betraying his most cherished convictions than from 
the pain of the fire; so at least he thinks, for it is in the 
nature of such men to rate spiritual pain as more grievous 
thah bodily. Therefore, in opting for the stake, he is 
aiming at his own greatest pleasure or, what from my 
point of view amounts to the same thing, at avoiding his 
own greatest pain. " On such lines the conduct of the 


martyr can be interpreted consistently with hedonist 
premises. A similar analysis may be applied to any other* 
case of apparently self-denying or self-sacrificing conduct. 

B. Criticism of Psychological Hedonism 

The most summary objection to the view that we are so 
constituted that we can acknowledge no motive to action 
except that of increasing our own pleasure, has been 
advanced by Canon Rashdall. If Psychological Hedonism 
is true, then, he points out, we must all have starved in 
infancy. For babies maintain life by taking milk at the 
breast. Now on the first occasion on which a baby sucks 
the breast his action cannot have been motivated by the 
desire to obtain pleasure, since, if it really was the first 
occasion, he would have no reason to suppose that pleasure 
would result from his action. Hence, if Psychological 
Hedonism were correct in asserting that the only possible 
motive of human action is to obtain pleasure, there would 
be no psychological hedonists to make the assertion, since 
none of us would have survived starvation in infancy. 

example is a particular illustration of a difficulty whose 
application is general. Psychological Hedonism postulates 
a much greater degree of rationality in human beings 
than their conduct in fact exhibits, for, in postulating 
that the sole motive for our actions is the motive of increas- 
ing our own pleasure, it postulates that we do in fact 
always have a motive for what we do. But we frequently 
act on impulse. That our bodily reflex actions, the swallow- 
ing of food, the shrinking from a blow, the closing of the 
eyelid at the impact of a fly, are not calculated but in- 
voluntary, will be generally agreed. But they are no more 
calculated, no less involuntary, than many, of the actions 
which a psychologist would ascribe to the promptings of 
instinct or impulse. Men sing in their baths and enjoy it; 


but they do not sing in order to enjoy it. They sing from 
pure lightness of heart, or to let off steam. Men swear 
when enraged and sometimes break the furniture; but 
they do not swear and break furniture because, after an 
interval of calculation, they have come to the conclusion 
that they will derive more pleasure from swearing and 
furniture breaking than from keeping silence and leaving 
the furniture intact. They are, it is clear, acting on impulse 
which finds vent in action independently of reflection. When 
a man rushes into the street to snatch a child from the 
wheels of a passing car at the risk of his own life, it is 
improbable that he first stops to calculate that by doing 
so he will obtain more pleasure, than by staying where he 
is, and probable that he acts from an unthinking impulse 
to save the child's life. 

The line between actions proceeding from unthinking 
impulses and those whose motivation contains an admixture 
of rational calculation is not easy to draw. Consider,, for 
example, the case of boasting. We boast partly because 
we have an instinctive disposition to do so, partly because 
we wish to make other people admire us. With this object, 
little boys boast unashamedly. But, as I have already 
pointed out, 1 we presently discover that the effect of boast- 
ing is not to cause people to admire us, but to cause 
them to despise and dislike us. It is difficult, therefore, 
to maintain that men boast in order to obtain pleasure, 
since most men have learned by bitter experience that the 
effect of boasting is only too often the contrary of pleasant. 
It is, nevertheless, true that they boast and that the act 
of boasting gives them pleasure. 

HORSE. It is the fact that it does give pleasure which 
underlies the fallacy upon which Hedonism rests. This 
fallacy depends upon a confusion which was originally 
pointed out by Bishop Butler, 9 the confusion between the 

1 See Chapter VI, p. 183. 

1 See Chapter VI, pp. 187-189, for Butler'i analysis. 

402 * BTMZGS 

ownership of an impulse and its object It is a fact that 
every impulse that I satisfy is my impulse. It is also a fact 
that the satisfaction of any impulse brings pleasure. It 
does no^ however, follow that my object in satisfying the 
impulse is the pleasure which attends its satisfaction. 

It is, Butler maintained, possible to distinguish those 
actions which proceed from the motive of increasing one's 
own pleasure from those which are prompted by the need 
to satisfy an impulse. Thus, to take an example, We can 
distinguish between a man's purpose in eating in the case 
in which he is seeking to allay hunger, and his purpose 
in eating when he is seeking to obtain pleasant sensations, 
as, for example, when a replete man eats a chocolate. 
To assert that, when I feel hunger and eat, I do so with 
the conscious motive of increasing my. happiness, saying 
to myself, 'If I eat, I shall get more pleasure than if I 
refrain from eating; therefore I will eat' is psychologically 
incorrect. When I raise my fork to my lips, I am not 
conscious of any such motive: I am conscious only of a 
feeling of hunger, combined, if I think about the matter 
at all, which I usually do not, with the belief that food 
will satisfy my hunger. The hedonist makes the mistake 
of concluding that, because by eating food .and allaying 
need I obtain pleasure, it was at the pleasure that I was 
consciously aiming when I raised my fork to my lips. But 
this is to put the cart before the horse. It is to suppose 
that, because pleasure (P) occurs when I obtain some- 
thing (X) that I want, therefore, I only wanted (X) 
because of (P); but, if I had not wanted (X) for its own 
sake, I should not have experienced (P) on obtaining it. 
(P), in other words, only occurred because I wanted (X) 
independently of (P). Hence, that we should desire things 
other than pleasure is sometimes a necessary condition 
of our experiencing pleasure. 

far is it from being true that I am always motivated soltly 
by the desire to obtain pleasure for myself, that a plausible 


caie can be made out for the view that it is only when I 
aim at something other than my pleasure, that I succeed 
in obtaining pleasure. Many moralists have pointed out 
that to pursue pleasure directly is to miss it. The kingdom 
of pleasure, they say, cannot be taken by storm any more 
than the kingdom of beauty can be taken by storm. 
Pleasure, which evades direct pursuit, sometimes consents 
to grace our states of mind when we are actively engaged 
inp the pursuit and achievement of something other than 
pleasure. It tends, in particular, to be experienced when 
faculties which are fully developed are being called into 
the fullest activity of which they are capable. This is the 
gist of Aristotle's famous account of pleasure, in the tenth 
book of the Nicomachaean Ethics, as a by-product or some- 
thing added. 

If one of our senses is in a healthy state and is engaged 
in reporting to us the nature of an object of an appropriate 
kind, for example in the case of sight, an object which is 
easily visible, then, says Aristotle, the activity of that sense 
is necessarily pleasant. The same is true of the activity 
of thought when it is engaged upon a suitable object. 
In asserting that activities of this kind are pleasant, Aristotle 
emphasizes the fact that the pleasure completes the 
activity. Pleasure, in other words, perfects the activity 
which it accompanies, although it is not a part of the 
activity, nor is it its necessary condition. Aristotle takes a 
parallel from the case of health. When a healthy young 
man is engaged in an activity calling forth his fullest 
powers, there is a superadded completion or perfection 
upon his health which gives it a bloom. Now pleasure is 
of this character; like the bloom upon the cheek of a young 
man it is not aimed at, but is a something added, a sign 
that a healthy organism is functioning as it ought to do 
in relation to a suitable object. 

The account of pleasure given by Aristotle is a statement 
of psychological fact rather than an exposition of philoso- 
phical theory; and, on the point of psychological fact, there 
is little doubt that Aristotle is right. The by-product 


theory of pleasure renders intelligible, for example, that 
bitter lesson of experience which teaches that you cannot 
repeat a pleasure. You have gone, let us say, to a concert 
to hear a Mozart quartet and have heard it with passionate 
enjoyment. Ravished by the memory of intense pleasure 
which the beauty of Mozart's music engendered, you go 
to hear the quartet a second timft, and, the second time, 
it is surprisingly unsatisfying. You come away disappointed, 
almost disillusioned. What is the reason for your disappoint- 
ment? It is, the by-product theory of pleasure would 
suggest, that on the second occasion, you were aiming 
directly at pleasure. The motives which prompted your 
two visits to the concert were, in fact, different motives. 
On the first occasion you wanted to hear the music for its 
own sake; on the second, to re-experience the pleasure which 
you obtained from hearing the music on the first occasion. 
The motive for your action, in fact, on the second occasion, 
was not the desire to hear music, but the desire to experience 

PLEASURE. There is, perhaps, no truth which men 
more habitually neglect than the truth that pleasure may 
not be pursued directly, and no neglect for which moralists 
have more persistently rebuked them. Most of the poets 1 
admonitions on the subject of the vanity of human wishes 
are probably derivable from their intuitive perception of 
the mistake of direct pleasure seeking. The following speech 
by Mrs. Quarks in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point 
may be taken as a typical statement of the truth which 
the poets have discerned, conveyed with a moralist's 
habitual irritation at the folly of his contemporaries. 

"'I fed so enormously much happier since I've been 
here, with you,' she announced hardly more than a week 
after her arrival. 

'"It's because you're not trying to be happy or won- 
dering why you should have been made unhappy, because 


you've stopped thinking in terms of happiness or uH- 
happineas. That's the enormous stupidity of the young 
people of this generation/ Mrs. Quarles went on; 'they 
never think of life except in terms of happiness. How 
shall I have a good time? That's the question they ask. 
Or they complain. Why am I toot having a better time? 
But this is a world where good times, in their sense of 
the word, perhaps in any sense, simply cannot be had 
continuously, and by everybody* And even when they 
get their good times, it's inevitably a disappointment 
for imagination is always brighter than reality. And after 
it's been had for a little, it becomes a bore. Everybody 
strains after happiness, and the result is that nobody's 
happy. It's because they're on the wrong road. The 
question they ought to be asking themselves isn't: Why 
aren't we happy, and how shall we have a good time? 
It's: How can we please God, and why aren't we better? 
If people asked themselves those questions and answered 
them to the best bf their ability in practice, they'd achieve 
happiness without ever thinking about it. For it's not by 
pursuing happiness that you find it; it's by pursuing 
salvation. And when people were wise, instead of merely 
clever, they thought of life in terms of salvation and 
damnation, not of good times and bad times. If you're 
feeling happy now, Marjorie, that's because you've stopped 
wishing you were happy and started trying to be better. 
Happiness is like coke something you get as a by-product 
in the process of making something eke.' " 

The truth embodied in Mrs. Quarles's sermon has been 
admirably summed up in Shaw's epigram, "the only way 
to avoid being miserable is not to have leisure enough to 
wonder whether you are happy or not". Happiness, in 
short, is not a house that can be built by men's. hands; 
it is a flower which surprises you, a song which you hear 
as you pass the hedge, rising suddenly and simply in the 
night and dying down again. 

I feel that some apology is necessary for the note of 
moralizing which has crept into the foregoing passage. 

406 ' ETHICS 

It harmonizes, I am prepared to admit, but ill with the 
strain of austere exposition which is, or should be, the 
dominating motif of this book. I venture to put forward 
three considerations in my defence. First, this is one of 
the few passages in which I am permitting myself to air 
my own views. Secondly, there is some ground for thinking 
that the truth embodied in the by-product theory of 
pleasure is in an exceptional degree neglected by the age 
in which we live. Thirdly, since the truth upon which 
I am insisting is one which no man will take upon trust 
from his neighbour, but which each must discover for 
himself, and discover only through the boredom and 
disillusion which attend its neglect, my moralizing is not 
likely to be taken seriously except by those for whom it is 

PLEASURE, (i) Schopenhauer's Account of Pleasure. But, 
it may be asked, is this fact upon which I have insisted, 
the &ct, namely, that pleasure must not be pursued 
directly, a purely arbitrary fact? If it is indeed a fact, why 
should it be one? Various explanations are in the field. 
There is, for example, the view, advanced by Schopenhauer, 
that pleasure is a state of satisfied consciousness which 
is necessarily dependent upon a preceding state of dis- 
satisfaction. Schopenhauer is to-day chiefly known for 
his philosophy of pessimism, a pessimism which is directly 
derivable from his conception of the underlying principle 
of life as an unconscious urge or impulse, which he called 
the Will. Every individual is for Schopenhauer a particular 
manifestation or expression of the Will. The Will expresses 
itself in the individual's consciousness in the form of a 
continual succession of wants or needs, and it is the pain 
of want which causes the individual to take action which 
is designed to satisfy die want When the want is satisfied, 
the individual feels pleasure, but feels it only for a moment, 
since, as wanting or needing is the very stuff of life, the 
satisfied want is immediately replaced by another. Since 


the pleasure which attends the satisfaction of want is 
dependent upon the pre-existence of the want which it 
satisfies, we cannot obtain the pleasure of satisfaction 
without undergoing the preceding pain of want we 
cannot, in short, feast unless we are first prepared to fast 
and the attempt to enjoy the pleasure after the want is 
satisfied results only in boredom and satiety. It is for this 
reason that the devotees of the so-called life of pleasure, 
which aims at the continual enjoyment of pleasure without 
the intervening pain of want, probably enjoy themselves 
less than those who devote themselves to hard and un- 
remitting effort 

Since the pain of need or desire is a permanent condition 
of living, and the. pleasure of satisfaction is transitory, 
life, regarded* as a commercial speculation with pleasure 
on the credit and pain on the debit side, must, according 
to Schopenhauer, be regarded as a failure. We cannot 
remain satisfied, try as we will, but are driven forward by 
the remorseless urge of life, expressing itself in a con- 
tinuously recurring series of new wants and impelling us 
to make ever fresh efforts to satisfy them. These may or 
may not be successful, but the pleasure of success is pre- 
carious and short, while the pain of newly recurring need 
is certain. 

(a) Plato on Mixed and Unmixed Pleasures. It is not 
necessary to accept Schopenhauer's general metaphysical 
view, or even the pessimistic conclusion which he derives 
from his ethical theory, to recognize the force of his con- 
tentions in their bearing upon pleasure. It is, however, 
difficult to. resist the conclusion that he pushes them too 
far. Not all the pleasures are dependent upon pre-existing 
need; not all are conditioned by the pain of boredom or 
the spur of desire. Some pleasures, although not perhaps 
the most intense, are enjoyed for themselves. These Plato, 
in a famous passage in a Dialogue called the Philtbus, 
entitled " pure pleasures ". 

Pure pleasures are distinguished from impure pleasures 
by reason of the fact that they contain no admixture of 


pain. Many pleasures, Plato points out, are dependent 
for their pleasantness upon the degree of the preceding 
dissatisfaction to which they are relative. Thus the pleasure 
of the convalescent is dependent upon the fact of his 
preceding illness; of the resting man upon his preceding 
fatigue; of the water-drinking man upon his preceding 
thirst. These states and activities, convalescing, resting, 
water-drinking, are characterized by the sort of pleasure 
whose nature, when it is experienced in its crudest form, 
as, for example, in the form of relief from long and wearing 
pain, we all recognize for what it is. We recognize, that is 
to say, that the pleasure experienced on relief from pain 
owes its pleasantness solely to the fact that we are no longer 
suffering the pain which we formerly suffered. These, then, 
are impure pleasures and up to this point Plato agrees 
with Schopenhauer. There are, however, other pleasures 
which, Plato points out, are not dependent upon want or 
need. The smell of violets and the taste of chocolate, are 
simple examples of these. One's pleasure in a bright frosty 
morning in winter, or in the colours of the leaves on an 
October afternoon, are more complex examples of the 
same class. Pre-eminent in the class of pure pleasures 
Plato places the pleasures of intellectual and aesthetic 
activity. Nor, I think, can it be denied that the very 
real pleasures of listening to good music, of looking at good 
pictures, of solving a difficult problem, of carrying on an 
abstract discussion, of pursuing a difficult but valuable 
line of research, are in no sense determined by, or dependent 
upon, a preceding state of need, or a preceding experience 
of pain. We are not made miserable because we are not 
listening to music, although we may enjoy ourselves very 
much when we are. 

(3) T/at the De&efor Impure Pleasures Grows With What 
It Feeds on. Plato has a further criticism to make of the 
impure pleasures. The need for them grows, he points 
out, with its satisfaction. Yet although, or, it may be, 
because it grows, it is ever harder to satisfy. Hie pain 
of the ever-growing need is greater, the pleasure rf the 


ever-diminishing satisfaction is less. Thus, if a man allows 
himself to be dominated by his appetites, he will find 
that he is in bondage to a tyrant whose demands grow 
ever more exacting, and who shows less and less gratitude 
when they are satisfied. 

The case of cigarette smoking cited on a previous page 1 
affords a good example of Plato's contention. 

What is true in a small way of a small desire, such as 
the desire for cigarette smoking, is more significantly true 
of the more tyrannous desires; of the desire for heavy 
drinking, for sexual pleasure, or for drugs. 

of these obvious considerations, there is a school of thought 
represented in every age, which identifies the good life with 
intensity of sensational experience. "Not the fruit of experi- 
ence, but experience itself is," Walter Pater affirms, "the 
end." "Success in life" is, he continues, "to burn always 
with" a "hard gem-like flame, to maintain", an "ecstasy". 
The palace of wisdom lies through the gateways of excess, 
announced Blake, who also exhorted us to "damn braces" 
and "bless relaxes". In all ages men have seen in self- 
expression and self-development the ends of life. The body, 
they have urged, should be regarded as an Aeolian harp 
for the evocation of delicate harmonies of feeling and of 
sensation. Deliberately, by training and experience, the 
wise man tunes the harp, producing as a result harmonies 
of feeling still more exquisite, thrills of sensation still 
more intense. 

This attitude to life, however eloquent the language 
in which it finds expression, is, nevertheless, exposed to a 
disabling defect, the defect which is illustrated by the 
exajnple of excessive smoking, the defect against, which 
Aristotle seeks to guard by his doctrine of the Mean, 
and which Plato has in mind when he criticizes the impure 
pleasures. Of the pleasures which result from the satis- 
faction of appetites, it is true (i) that the more of them 
1 See Chapter IV, p. 102. 

410 . ETHICS 

you have, the more of them you will want, and (ii) that 
you will find it ever more difficult to obtain that of 
which you want more. Plato's general conclusion is 
that a small amount of pure pleasure is better than 
a large amount of mixed pleasure. Consequently, he 
commends even on purely hedonistic grounds the life 
which is devoted to the pursuit of wisdom and beauty as 
compared with that which is spent in seeking to satisfy 
the desires. 

it be granted that we can acknowledge motives for action 
other than the motive of increasing our own pleasure, the 
question may be asked whether we ever do act from the 
motive which the psychological hedonist asserts to be our 
sole motive? It seems doubtful. Hedonism assumes that 
there is a special kind of mental event which it calls a 
pleasure, and that it is at the production of this mental 
event that we invariably aim. Now, a highly plausible 
psychological view mwnfa*m that there are no such things 
as pleasures and pains conceived as separate events occur- 
ring in our psychological history; what we call pleasures 
and pains are, it holds, always qualities of other events. 
The subject is technical, and I cannot do more than 
indicate a conclusion which it would be beyond the scope 
of this book to defend. This conclusion is, broadly, that all 
mental events are primarily forms of cognition; they are, 
that is to say, ways of knowing something. Now most of 
our "knowings" are characterized by a quality which 
the psychologists know as emotional tone. Thus, if I see 
a tiger and am frightened, I should be said to be knowing 
or cognizing the tiger fearfully; if I see it behind the bars 
of a cage and am interested in observing its movements, 
I am cognizing it curiously. Now one of the qualities by 
which my cognitions are characterized is the quality of 
their hcdonic tone, that is to say, the degree of their 
pleasurableness or painfulness. If, for example, I am 
looking at a row of chocolates in a box in a shop window 


and do not happen to be wanting chocolates, my cogni- 
tion of the chocolates will probably be characterized by a 
neutral hedonic tone; if I am badly in need of chocolates 
but am unable to pay for them, it is probable t&at the 
hedonic tone which characterizes my cognition will be 
disagreeable. If 9 however, I buy them and taste them and 
enjoy them, I shall be cognizing the chocolates pleasur- 
ably. Now it seems improbable that we lever have an 
experience which has no qualities except its hedonic ones: 
it seems unlikely, that is to say, that we ever have an 
experience which is one of pure pleasure or of pure pain; 
for all our experiences, if I am right, are experiences of 
something, and it is that of which they are experiences 
which gives them their distinctive non-hedonic qualities. 
Thus when I say that an experience of excessive drinking, 
or of drug-taking, is pleasant but shameful, what I mean, if 
this analysis is right, is that I like it for its hedonic 
qualities, although I dislike it for its non-hedonic qualities; 
if I say that so-and-so is virtuous but disagreeable, I 
mean that the non-hedonic qualities which characterize 
my cognition of so-and-so are respectful, but that the 
hedonic qualities are unpleasant. This is probably what 
Mill meant by his ambiguous distinction between higher 
and lower pleasures. 1 If the foregoing is right, all 
hedonic qualities are qualitatively the same; they differ 
only in degree. The difference between die so-called 
higher and lower pleasures is, therefore, a difference^ 
between the non-hedonic qualities that characterize two 
states of mind which may be the same in respect of 
their hedonic qualities. To revert to the case < 
lates, we should not say, on this view, that 
a chocolate, I am desiring pleasure, 
is the characteristic experience of < 
happens to have a pleasant hedonic 
aim purely at pleasure; what we 
which the hedonist would say that 
own pleasure, is the enjoyment of a 

* See Chapter IX, p, 330.^ 

412 ETHIG8 

which we expect to be characterized by a pleasurable 
hedonic tone. This analysis can be applied to those pleasures 
which Plato describes as'pure, no less than those which he 
regarded as impure. It suggests that not even in the case 
of the pure pleasures is the motive for my action such as 
Psychological Hedonism asserts. It suggests that, when I 
enjoy smelling a violet, I am not enjoying a pleasure, but am 
enjoying a specific, cognitive, experience, the " knowing." 
of a violet, which I may have deliberately aimed at, which 
happens to have a pleasant hedonic quality. The conclu- 
sion of this psychological analysis is that it is never the 
case that the motive of an action is solely the wish to 
obtain pleasure for the agent. The motives of those actions 
which constitute the most plausible illustration of the 
hedonist's contentions will be motives to have certain 
specific experiences, which are distinguishable from all 
other experiences in respect of their non-hedonic qualities, 
but which share with them the common quality of being 
characterized by a marked degree of pleasant hedonic 

For the reasons given, I conclude that there is no good 
ground for supposing that pleasure, or that pleasant 
states of consciousness, or that pleasant mental events, 
are the only possible objects of human desire, and that 
the wish to have them is the only possible motive of 
human action. 


C. Statement and Criticism of Ethical Hedonism 

remains for consideration the view that, although I can 
desire things other than our own pleasure, I ought only 
tp desire pleasure, .since pleasure is the Good. This view, 
which may Ije entitled Ethical Hedonism, since it intro- 
duces the word "ought" has two forms, (a) that I ought 
onjy to desire my own pleasure since my pleasure is 
the sole good, or is the sole good for me, and (b) that I 


ought to desire the greatest pleasure on the whole, or the 
greatest pleasure of the greatest number. These two forms 
of Ethical Hedonism are sometimes known as Egoistic 
Ethical Hedonism and Univcrsalistic Ethical Hedonism. 
In the course of the foregoing discussions a number 
of arguments which militate against the acceptance of 
either view have been indicated. Here again, however, 
it is doubtful whether any logical refutation is possible. 
The nearest approach to one is afforded by the argument 
already used in this chapter 1 to show that the term "good " 
cannot be equated with any other concept whatever. If 
this argument is correct, good cannot be equated with 

Egoistic Ethical Hedonism has often been criticized 
on the ground that it is a vulgar and unworthy doctrine, 
and repugnant to the moral sense of mankind. If this 
objection means anything at all, it means that most people 
experience intuitions to the effect that some things other 
than pleasure are good in themselves, and are not good 
merely as a means to the increase of pleasure, the imputa- 
tion of vulgarity arising from the proposal to value merely 
as a means to enjoyment that which is valuable in and 
for its own sake. That most people do experience such 
intuitions seems to be highly probable. 

If it cannot be logically refuted, Ethical Hedonism 
cannot be logically demonstrated. 

Of the proposition that pleasure alone is good, or is the 
Good, there is not, nor in the nature of things can there be, 
any proof. It rests, as I have tried to show, upon an indefens- 
ible intuition. It is not, therefore, surprising that when phil- 
osophers do endeavour to defend it, they should fall into 
inconsistency, as J. S. Mill fell into inconsistency when he 
sought to establish the fact that there were different qualities 
of pleasure, a higher and a lower.* Now it may be plausibly 
suggested that these attempted defences are prompted by 
their authors' unconscious recognition that die view that 
pleasure is the only good is at variance with the plain 
1 See above, pp. 388, 389. * See Chapter IX, p. 330. 

414 * ETHICS 

deliverances of the moral sense, and it is the attempt to 
resolve the conflict between theory and experience that 
leads to inconsistencies which would not otherwise have 
passed the intellectual censorship of so acute a thinker 
as Mill. 

Mill was not alone in failing to observe the flaw in the 
argument that seeks to establish higher and lower qualities 
of pleasure. Dr. Johnson was guilty of the same fallacy, as 
witness the following quotation from Boswell: 

"'Sir, that all who are happy, are equally happy, is not 
true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, 
but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity 
of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not capacity for 
having equal happiness with a philosopher.' 

"I remember/' Boswell continues, "this very question 
very -happily illustrated in opposition to Hume, by the 
Reverend Mr. Robert Brown at Utrecht. 'A small drink- 
ing glass and a large one/ he said, "may be equally full; 
but the large one holds more than the small.' " . 

HAPPINESS. Now the argument outlined above 1 does, 
I think, convincingly show that it is not a greater 
capacity for happiness that the philosopher possesses, but 
a greater capacity for the appreciation of values other 
than that of happiness. That the state of the philosopher 
is more valuable than that of the peasant may be true, 
but there is not the faintest reason to suppose that he is, 
therefore, more capable of happiness of the same kind as 
the happiness that the peasant enjoys. Yet, if the arguments 
already given 1 are valid, there cannot be differences in 
kinds or qualities of happiness, but only in degrees of 

The various attempts which have been made to show 

that higher, or more refined, or more elevated happiness 

is happier than lower, less refined, or less elevated happiness, 

are all guilty of the same error; they all, that is to say, 

1 and ' See above, pp. 410-412. 


fail to observe that in postulating the greater value of higher 
happiness, that is, of what Dr. Johnson calls the philosopher's 
happiness, they are admitting the existence of values other 
than happiness. I conclude that the view that happiness 
is the only good is not one which can be validly supported 
by argument. 

Arguments are felt to be needed and are in fact put 
forward in its support, because it appears prima facie to 
conflict with the deliverances of the moral sense or, if 
the expression be preferred, to gainsay our intuitions to 
the effect that things other than pleasure possess value. 
Yet because these intuitions of value do in fact exist, 
because, that is to say, we do feel that some states of con- 
sciousness are higher and not merely more pleasant than 
others, inconsistency sooner or later creeps into arguments 
which are advanced to show that pleasure is die. only 

If the assertion that pleasure is the only value cannot 
be supported by argument, it must rest upon an unsup- 
ported intuition; but once the fact that it does so is realized, 
we have no grounds for resisting the admission of other 
unsupported intuitions of value. 

The doctrine that the greatest happiness of the greatest 
number is a good and ought to be promoted, like the 
doctrine that pleasures can differ in quality, affords another 
illustration of the difficulty of maintaining the view that 
pleasure is the only good. In so far as we admit that we 
ought to seek to distribute whatever pleasures there are 
evenly, we are surely admitting that we consider justice 
and equality to be goods, and admitting therefore, that 
we Ought to aim at them as well as at pleasure. 


Books critical of Subjectivism and Naturalism. 
SORLBY, W. R. Hie Ethics of Naturalism. 
BRADLEY, F. H. Ethical Studies. 
GREEN, T. H. Prolegomena to Ethics. 
Discussions of Htdonism. 

416 ' ETHICS 

. The Philebus. 
^'ARISTOTLE. Nichomachaean Ethics, Book X. 

BUTLER, JOSEPH. Dissertation on Virtue. 
vSmcwiCK, H. Methods of Ethics, Book I, Chapter IV, and 

Book III, Chapter XIII. 
BROAD, C. D. Five Types of Ethical Theory, Chapter VI, 

especially pp. 180-240. 
MOORE, G. E. Principia Ethica. 


Introductory. If I am right in assuming that pleasure 
or happiness is not the only thing which is good in itself, 
the question arises what else is good in itself? Hitherto 
I have been largely engaged in summarizing the views 
historically put forward by leading writers upon ethics. 
The expositions of Intuitionism, of Utilitarianism, both 
objective and subjective, and the criticisms of these theories, 
are such as will be found in most of the text books on 
ethics. The form which I have given to the exposition and 
criticism is my own, but the substance was derived from 
others. The theory of value which follows, although it 
owes much to other philosophers, and in particular to 
Plato, embodies views which are in part my own. In 
what follows, then, I am, for the first time in this book, 
advancing opinions which are backed by no better authority 
than that of the author. It is important that the reader 
should bear this fact in mind. 

My object is to suggest the outline of a theory of good 
or value which embodies, or is at least compatible with, 
the results reached in the course of the preceding survey. 

Meanings of the Word Good. It will have become 
apparent in the course of the preceding chapters that the 
word "good" is used in a number of different senses. It 
has also been argued that, in so far as "good" means 
something which is ultimate and unique, its meaning is 
indefinable, while, in so far as that which the word "good " 
means is analysable into meanings for which other words 
stand, the particular ineaning which we assign to it 
will depend upon and be determined by our adoption of a 
particular ethical theory. Thus "good " may mean approved 

418 * ETHICS 

of by me (subjectivist theory), or expedient for me (instru- 
mentalist theory), or useful for me (utilitarian theory); 
or good may be equated with some other concept, for 
example with pleasure, as it is by the hedonists. For the 
purpose of the ensuing exposition it will be convenient 
to distinguish two senses in which the word "good" is 
frequently used; the first, to denote whatever is regarded 
as ultimately valuable in and for itself, and not as a means 
to any other thing; the second, to denote moral worth, or 
virtue. I shall, so far as possible, abstain from using the 
word "good", and employ instead the expressions "value*' 
and "moral virtue", when I wish to denote these two 
frequent meanings of "good". 


In the course of the discussions which have occupied 
Part II certain conclusions have been provisionally reached. 
I propose to enumerate such of these as are relevant to 
the present discussion. 

(i) Conclusion that Ultimate Values Exist. There is 
the conclusion that, whenever a genuine ethical judgment 
is passed, the existence of an ultimate value, that is to 
say, of something which is considered to be valuable for 
its own sake and not as a means to something else, is 
entailed. 1 The qualification which is implied by the 
words "genuinely ethical" is important, for, if any form 
of subjectivist theory is true, no genuine ethical judgment 
ever is passed. In order that an ethical judgment may be 
genuine and not merely a disguised form of some non- 
ethical judgment , in order, to take an example, that the 
judgment "X is good" may mean that X has a certain 
ethical quality, and not merely that X happens to be 
approved of by me, it is necessary that the universe should 
contain factors which possess ethical characteristics in 
*See Chapter V, pp. 166*170. 


their own right; it is necessary, in short, that some things 
should be really good, others really bad, some things 
really right and others really wrong* Objectivist theories 
assert or imply that this is the case. On the assumption, 
then, that some form of Objectivism is correct, I have 
tried to show that, when any genuine ethical judgment 
is made, for example, the judgment that quinine is good 
for a cold, the existence of something that is considered 
to be ultimately valuable for its own sake and not as a 
means to something else, is implied. 

(2) Conclusion that Since Ultimate Values are Unique 
No Account Can Be Given of Them. Secondly, 
there is the conclusion that whatever is ultimately valuable 
is unique, and that, because it is unique, no account can 
be given of it. For the uniqueness of ultimate values a 
number of reasons has been adduced. These reasons may be 
formulated in the type of argument which was instanced 
in the last chapter in criticism of subjcotivist theories of 
good. 1 This type of argument seeks to show that the 
meaning of the word "good" and I am here using 
the word "good" to denote whatever is ultimately 
valuable in and for itself- cannot be equated with the 
meaning of any other concept. If, for example, we arc 
told that pleasure is good or is the Good, then, whenever 
we meet the words "good" or "the Good" in a sentence, 
we can substitute for them the word "pleasure". Now that 
pleasure is the Good is a discussible proposition, but that 
pleasure is pleasure is not a discussible proposition. Thus the 
two propositions do not mean the same thing, and pleasure 
cannot, therefore, be equated with good or the Good. 

The same argument can be used with equal force against 
the attempted identification of good with any other con- 
cept. It follows that good, or rather, to use the word which 
in the interests of clarity of exposition I am proposing to 
substitute, value, is unique in die sense that it cannot be 
equated with, or exhaustively analysed into, anything else. 
* Sec Chapter XI, pp. 388,389- 


Now whatever is unique is indescribable. Colour is 
unique, and any attempt to define or describe colour in 
terms of anything else will, therefore, falsify it. Thus we 
can recognize colour, but we cannot say what it is. Beauty, 
again, is unique, and we cannot, therefore, describe beauty; 
we can only recognize it Similarly with any other form 
of value, and similarly, therefore, with that form of value 
which we know as moral virtue. Moral virtue also is 
unique and is also, therefore, indescribable. But the fact 
that moral virtue and beauty are unique and indescribable 
does not mean that we cannot recognize them, or that 
we do not feel impelled to pursue them. 

If beauty and moral virtue, together with other forms 
of value are both unique and indescribable, we cannot, 
it is obvious, give any reasons for our appreciation of the 
one or of our effort to realize the other. This conclusion 
has already been indicated in the course of the arguments 
given in Chapter V for the view there called Ethical 
Silence. Since, however, it constitutes one of the funda- 
mental contentions of the theory of value which I wish 
to put forward, I shall venture to elaborate it 1 in its 
application to that form of value with which Part II of 
this book is specifically concerned, namely, moral virtue. 

Moral virtue is a characteristic of persons. The charac- 
teristic of being morally virtuous is one which we are able 
to recognize in others, and which we endeavour, as I 
shall try to show below, 1 to attain ourselves. My immediate 
purpose is to emphasize the fact that we are not in a position 
to answer the questions, "Why do we recognize moral 
virtue to be valuable and why do we seek to attain it? ", 
that, in short, we are not in a position to give an 
account of moral virtue. 

expression "to give an account of, when used in such 
sentences as "I believe that I am in a position to give an 

1 See Conclusion (3), pp. 492-426 below. 
1 See Conclusion (5), pp. 428, 429 below. 


account of so-and-so," is a loose one. There are, it is 
obvious, several ways of giving an account of a thing. 
Broadly, however, they reduce themselves to one or other 
of three. We can enumerate the thing's characteristics; 
we can specify the conditions or circumstances which 
produced it; or we can point to and describe its effects. 

Thus to give an account of a civilization is to enumerate 
the characteristics on account of which we consider our- 
selves entitled to describe a community as civilized : that, for 
example, its institutions are free and its laws humane; 
that its cities are wealthy, its government respected, its 
artistic output abundant in quantity and good in quality. 
To give an account of a civilization is also to specify 
the conditions in which it arose, pointing out, for example, 
that it succeeded an era of continuous warfare ; that it 
was ushered in by an increase of material prosperity; that 
it depended upon a stable government and a contented 
population; that it was the product of security and freedom 
from fear. 

Thirdly, to give an account of a civilization is to speak 
of its effect upon its members saying, for example, that 
the level of their moral behaviour is high; that in manners 
they are polished and urbane; that in religion they are 
free from superstition; that in action they are just and 
temperate; that they are prepared to tolerate those with 
whom they disagree, and in matters where the truth is 
not known, that they are willing to suspend their judgments. 

Now when something of which we propose to give an 
account is unique, it will be found that only the second and 
third of these methods are open to us, the first being unavail- 
able by reason of the fact that the characteristics of a thing 
which is unique cannot be described without falsification. 
They cannot, that is to say, be described in terms of 
something else without being misdescribed. If they could, 
they would not be unique. 

Thus I can say that it is a characteristic of a father to 
be a begetter of children, but how am I to describe the 
characteristic of colour? I can say that colour is observed 

422 ' ETHICS 

when light rays of a certain wave-length and frequency 
impinge upon the retina of an eye, which is connected 
by a visual cord with a brain, which is part of a body 
which is animated by a mind. In other words, I can say 
(though the statement is ambiguous) that colour is caused 
by light rays of a certain wave-length and frequency; but 
this is to specify the circumstances in which colour is 
observed or the conditions upon which colour supervenes. 
It is, in other words, to give an account of colour by the 
second method. Again, I can say that when in certain 
conditions of light a coloured object is placed in a particular 
spatial relation to my line of vision, I shall have certain 
sensations, for example the sensation of seeing red; but 
this is to give an account of colour ia terms of its effects. 
One of the effects of colour, I am now saying, is to produce 
certain unique sensations in a human mind which is in 
association with, or which animates, a body and a brain. 
I am, that is to say, now giving an account of colour by 
means of the third method. But if, having carefully ruled 
out accounts in terms of predisposing conditions, circum- 
stances and effects, I am asked what are the characteristics 
of colour, I cannot think of any answer that I can give. 
I know what colour is in the sense that I can recognize 
it when I see it, but I cannot say anything about its 

(3) Conclusion that Moral Virtue is Unique. 
What is true of colour is, I am suggesting, true of value, 
in any of the forms in which the human mind apprehends 
it. Let me try to illustrate this generalization by reference 
to that form of value which I have termed moral virtue. 
Moral virtue, I am maintaining, is unique. Now, since 
it is unique, it will elude any attempt to describe its char- 
acteristics. Hence, when writers on ethics make the attempt, 
it is found that the accounts that they are giving of moral 
virtue, relate not to the characteristics of moral virtue, but 
to the circumstances and conditions in which it appears 
or to the effects which it produces. This generalization is 


abundantly illustrated by some of the theories which have 
figured in the preceding survey. Thus subjecthrist theories 
give an account of moral virtue in terms of its predisposing 
conditions. Let a certain class of conduct be expedient for 
a community in the sense that it conduces to its safety, or 
promotes its welfare; let the conduct in question be, as 
a consequence, inculcated as a duty in the members of 
that community and its performance rewarded by the 
esteem of the community; let the same conditions prevail 
over a number of generations in the course of each of 
which the conduct in question is praised and its perform- 
ance encouraged; then, according to the theories in ques- 
tion, a generation will one day arise in whom the obligation 
to perform the conduct will be recognized as a duty, 
and approval of it when performed will be bestowed by a 
so-called moral sense. 

is broadly on these lines that subjcctivist theories give an 
account of moral virtue, citing the predisposing conditions 
which cause the feeling of duty to arise, and concluding 
that conduct is right and characters virtuous simply because 
they are approved. I have already criticized theories of 
this type. 1 Here my purpose is to point out that, if the 
predisposing conditions which are cited are really efficacious 
in giving rise to the feeling of moral obligation and the 
sense of moral approval, then both the feeling and the 
sense are the determined functions of the conditions; 
they are, that is to say, as much the products of the 
factors which brought them into existence as red hair 
and freckles are the products of a certain combination of 
genes, or a fear of the dark of incidents in early child- 

If we are not responsible for our conception of duty 
and our feelings of moral approval, then we are not free 
in respect of thertt. We cannot help doing our duty when 
*See Chapter XI, pp. 384-392. 


we do do it, or of approving of the disposition to do it 
in others, any more than we can help having a good eye 
at games or disliking marzipan. Now ethics, as has been 
pointed out on a number of occasions, entails freedom, 
and moral virtue must be freely achieved, or else it is not 
moral virtue. In so far, then, as the subjectivisms account 
of moral virtue in terms of its origins and predisposing 
conditions is valid, it turns out that it is not what we mean 
by moral virtue that is being so accounted for. 

TERMS OF ITS EFFECTS. While subjectivist theories 
specify the conditioning circumstances from which moral 
virtue takes its rise, Utilitarianism looks to its results; when, 
that is to say, it seeks to give an account of what we mean by 
moral virtue, Utilitarianism adopts the third of the methods 
enumerated above. A right action, says the utilitarian, is 
one which has the best consequences, and a virtuous 
man is he who habitually performs actions which 
have good consequences. Moral virtue, then, has what is 
termed an instrumental value; it is valuable because it 
is instrumental in producing certain effects. If moral virtue 
is described as something which has a certain kind of 
effect, and is regarded as desirable because it has that 
effect, then it is being valued not for its own sake, but for 
the sake of something else, namely, for the sake of its 
effects. But just as, when we sought to give an account 
of moral virtue by specifying the conditions and circum- 
stances in which it arose, it turned out that it was not 
moral virtue that we had described, since moral virtue 
entails freedom, and that which is a function of a set of 
conditions could not have been other than what it is, so 
it turns out that, when we try to give an account of mora 1 
virtue in terms of its effects, it is, once again, not mora. 
virtue that we are describing, itince, when we say of some- 
thing that it produces something else and then proceed 
to attribute value to it for the sake of the something 
else which it produces, the something in question which 


we are valuing for the sake of the something else is deprived 
of value in its own right. Now, if something which purports 
to be moral virtue turns out not to have value in its own 
right, then it is not what we mean by moral virtue. 

Moral virtue may or may not exist; the expression 
"moral virtue" may or may not, that. is to say, stand for 
a positive and distinctive conception. But if it does stand 
for such a conception, then it is entailed in the conception 
of it that moral virtue is valuable for its own sake. Popular 
usage supports this view. We should, it holds, pursue virtue 
for its own sake, because virtue is good; we should do 
our duty, even if the heavens fall. If, then, we try to do 
what is right for the sake of some result which will follow 
from doing right, because our conduct will bring us pros- 
perity, or a desirable reputation, or a knighthood; if we 
do our duty for some ulterior motive, even if it is only 
to please God and win a place in heaven, then, although 
we may be quite admirable people, it is, nevertheless, 
not moral virtue that we have achieved, it is -not the 
pull of moral obligation that we have acknowledged. In 
other words, if we are good for the sake of the rewards of 
being good, then, paradoxically, we are not really being 
good. The point is not an easy one to make, and I 
shall offer no apology for having recourse to Tolstoy to 
state for me what I find difficulty in stating myself. The 
following quotation, recounting a conversation between 
Lenin and a peasant which occurs at the end of Anna 
Karemna puts the point admirably: 

'"Fyodor says that Kirillov lives for his belly. That's 
comprehensible and rational. All of us as rational beings 
can't do anything else but live for our belly. And all of 
a sudden the same Fyodor says that one mustn't live for 
one's belly, but must live for truth, for God, and at a 
hint I understand him! And I and millions of men, men 
who lived ages ago and men living now peasants, the 
poor in spirit and the learned, who have thought and 
written about it, in their obscure words saying the same 
thing we are all agreed about this one thing: what we 



must live for and what is good. I and all men have only 
one firm, incontestable, dear knowledge, and that know- 
ledge cannot be explained by the reason it is outside it, 
and has no causes and can have no effects. 

'"If^goodness has causes, it is not goodness; if it has 
effects, a reward, it is not goodness either. So goodness it 
outside the chain of cause and effect. 

"'And yet I know it, and we all know it. 

" 'What could be a greater miracle than that?"' 

The truth which this passage embodies is that which 
Kant sought to express by his theory that, when we acknow- 
ledge the pull of moral obligation, we escape from the 
operation of the law of cause and effect, which governs 
the world of things as they appear. 1 I will try to state it 
in terms of the language used in the preceding paragraphs. 
If there is such a thing as moral virtue, then it is unique. 
Consequently, although we can recognize it when we 
meet it, we cannot describe its characteristics any more 
than we can describe the characteristics of any other 
thing which is* unique, such as, for example, colour. If, 
however, we resort to one of the other categories of 
explanation, and seek to give an account of moral virtue 
in terms of its predisposing conditions or of its results, 
we find, when we have finished, that it is not, in fact, 
moral virtue that we have succeeded in describing, but 
something quite different. For it is inherent in the con- 
ception of moral virtue that it should not be a function 
of predisposing conditions, and that it should not be 
cultivated or valued for the sake of its results. 

(4) Conclusion that the Morally Virtuous Man Must 
Possess Good Judgment This conclusion emerged as a 
result of the discussions contained in Chapter IX. (After 
the preceding fajjffrnr* on the impossibility of describing 
the characteristics of moral virtue, the statement that 
moral virtue involves an element of judgment suggests 

1 See Chapter VI, pp. 304-007. 
See Chapter IX, pp. 510-319. 


a certain inconsistency. It may be that I am, in fact, 
being inconsistent, or it may be, as I hope and think, that 
in ascribing to moral virtue an intellectual element, I am 
enunciating a truth, which is true about moral virtue, 
rather than saying what moral virtue is. Thus it is true 
to say about an egg that if it is kept too long, it will smell; 
but the truth does not constitute part of the nature of 
the egg. The truth is only true because the nature of the 
egg is what it is independently of the truth. 1 ) 

Let us provisionally use the term "a right action" in 
the utilitarian sense to mean an action which produces 
the best possible consequences, that is to say, consequences 
which contain the greatest possible amount of value. (I 
shall endeavour during the ensuing discussion to use the 
word "right" solely as an epithet of action, and to use it 
always in such a sense that an action which I speak of 
as "right", is one which produces consequences con- 
taining the greatest possible amount of value.) Now although 
moral virtue cannot, as I have tried to show, be adequately 
described or interpreted in terms of its results, it cannot 
be divorced Scorn them. There must, it is obvious, be 
some relation between moral virtue and right actions. 
What this relation is I shall try, in the latter part of this 
chapter, to indicate. 9 I am here content to invoke the 
testimony of the popular consciousness to the effect that 
a morally virtuous man cannot be one who habitually 
performs actions which have bad consequences. A morally 
virtuous man is usually regarded as one who is animated 
by good, or, as I should prefer to say, by "morally 
virtuous ", motives, and, as we have seen, morally virtuous 
motives cannot be considered apart from the consequences 
which actions proceeding from these motives may be 
expected to produce. 1 Now it is admitted that, we cannot 
know with certainty what the results of our actions will be; 

1 See, for a development of this view, the discussion and criticism 
of the axiom of internal relations in my Essays in Common Saw Philosophy t 
Chapter II. 

JSee 1 

See, pp. 459-462 below. 

See discussion in Chapter VIII, 

pp. 292-295. 

428 ' . ETHICS 

we can only forecast them with a greater or less degree of . 
accuracy. The point that I have tried to establish is that 
a man who forecasted very inaccurately, so that, with 
the best will in die world, he was continually performing 
actions which had the most unfortunate consequences, 
would not be adjudged by the popular consciousness to 
be as morally virtuous a man as he who habitually per- 
formed actions which had good consequences. It seems, 
therefore, to follow that the possession of a reasonably 
good judgment in the matter of forecasting the consequences 
of one's actions forms an essential element in the popular 
conception of moral virtue. On this point, I think that the 
popular moral consciousness is right. 

(5) Conclusion that Moral Virtue is Valued and Pursued. 

Although we cannot describe moral virtue, we do never- 
theless desire it and seek to attain it. Three arguments 
have been used in the foregoing discussions in support of 
this conclusion. First, there is Socrates's argument 1 that 
virtue is a form of knowledge, an argument which -entails 
the assumption that we do all pursue what Socrates calls 
"the Good", and that vice is, therefore, ignorance of what 
"the Good" is. This argument was criticized on the ground 
that it makes no provision for the fact that, although we 
often recognize "the Good", we nevertheless perform "the 
evil". 1 But the fact that we do not always or even often, 
pursue " the Good " we see, does not justify us in concluding 
that it has no influence over u*, even when we neglect it. 
On the contrary, there is a part of us which would always 
like to do what we conceive to be right, and would like 
to behave in the way in which we think that we ought to 
behave, although the part in question may be overborne 
by desires for specific ends, whose achievement entails 
conduct other than that which we think to be right. 

Subsidiary arguments in favour of this conclusion which 
have been mentioned in the preceding pages are, first, 1 

1 See Chapter II, 

pp. 48-50. f See Chapter II, p. 51. 
Chapter VI, pp. ftift, 913. 


that, other things being equal, we do what we think to 
be right and pursue what we think to be good without 
ulterior motive. When, however, we do what we know 
to be wrong, there is always an ulterior motive: we do 
wrong, that is to say, to promote a particular object or 
to gain a particular end. Secondly, there is the argument 
that evil is parasitic upon good 1 in the sense that it is only 
because most people do, on the whole, act rightly and try 
to do their duty, that it pays some people to act wrongly. 
Thus lying only pays some people because most people 
tell the truth most of the time. The conclusion that moral 
virtue is valued and pursued for its own sake will apply, 
mutatis mutandis, to other forms of value, for example, to 
truth and beauty. 

(6) Conclusion that the Motive to Act Rightly is 
Not Irrational. 

This conclusion was reached in the course of the 
discussion of free will in Chapter VII. I there sought 
to show that the perception that a certain course of action 
is right and reasonable constitutes for the virtuous man an 
adequate ground for performing the action. This conclu- 
sion was based upon the premise that, when we pursue what 
is good and try to do what is right, the state of conscious- 
ness involved is not one of unmixed feeling or desire, but 
contains an element of reason. If it did not, it would not, 
I argued, be possible to maintain the existence of moral 

If this conclusion is correct, the fact that we cannot give 
reasons for desiring "the Good" does not entitle us to 
conclude that the desire for it is unreasonable. Just as the 
perception that a thing is beautiful, or that a proposition 
is true is one which in the last resort we ace unable to 
justify or support by reason, so we cannot by reason justify 
or support our perception that so and so ought to be 
done. So much must be admitted. I might add that in 
not being demonstrable by reason our perceptions of 
1 See Chapter I, pp. 39, 40 and Chapter VI, pp. ao8, 209. 

43O / BTHIG8 

value are like our sense perceptions; we cannot, after all, 
give reasons, to justify our perception that this or that is 
red. The fact that our moral judgments cannot be justified 
by reasons does not, however, mean that they are not 
passed by reason* On the contrary, our reasons are in- 
volved not only in the making of judgments of value, but 
also in the desire for those ends which the judgments 
affirm to have value. Reason, as the psychologists put it, 
has an emotive and conative side. I do not wish to imply 
by this conclusion that reason is one thing, feeling another, 
desire another. Rather I should prefer to say that our judg- 
ments of value are expressions of our personality as a whole, 
and that every element in our personality is, accordingly, 
integrated in the making of them. Reason, therefore, is 
integrated in the making of them. 

The conclusions just enumerated are embodied in the 
ensuing Theory of Value. 


That the Recognition of Value is a Universal Human 
Attribute. I think that Socrates was right in holding 
that all men possess a capacity for recognizing value. We 
do, that is to say, on occasion recognize those things which 
are ultimately valuable when we are brought into contact 
with them, although we do not always recognize them, and 
often make mistakes in recognition, taking things to be 
valuable which are not. The questions then arise, what 
things do we recognize to be ultimately valuable; why do 
we make mistakes about them; and what arc the reasons 
for our mistakes? 

Before I try to answer these questions, let me endeavour 
to substantiate my first proposition that we do all possess 
a capacity for recognizing value. 

Digression on Universals and Particulars. The main 
reason for asserting that we possess this capacity is that we 


do, as I have tried to show, regard certain things as being 
valuable in themselves; that we approve of whatever 
manifests or exemplifies things which we regard as being 
valuable in themselves; and that we only desire and 
approve of other things in so far as we think that they will 
promote these ultimately valuable things, or, rather, in 
so far as they will promote the things which manifest or 
exemplify these ultimately valuable things. Thus we hold 
that morally virtuous characters are valuable in them* 
selves, apart from the actions in which the characters are 
expressed, and we approve of whatever tends to promote 
moral virtue. We also, I think, consider happy states of 
consciousness to be valuable in themselves, and we 
approve, therefore, of whatever tends to promote happi- 
ness. Morally virtuous characters and happy states of 
consciousness are, therefore, examples or illustrations of 
things which we consider to be valuable because they 
manifest or exemplify the ultimate values or moral virtue 
and happiness. Now we could not recognize that a 
particular thing exemplified a certain principle unless we 
also recognized the principle. In other words, to know 
that something is of a certain sort entails that you know 
the "sort" in question. 

I must here pause to make a distinction which will be 
familiar to those who have some, acquaintance with 
metaphysics between particulars and universal*. Cream, 
snow and sheets are all particular white things, but they 
all possess a common quality in virtue of which we call 
them white. This common quality of whiteness is different 
from any one particular white thing; it is also different 
from the sum total of all the particular things which 
happen to be white. It is usually known in philosophy as 
a universal, and the things which possess the property of 
being white are spoken of as particulars which manifest 
or exemplify the universal whiteness. 

Plato, as I have already mentioned, 1 held that universals 
possess a being in their own right apart from that of 
1 See Chapter II, pp. 57-59* 


the particulars which manifest or exemplify them. I 
think that Plato was right in taking this view. The reasons 
for this opinion belong to metaphysics and cannot be 
given here; they arc, however, presented at some length 
in my Gvidt to Philosophy. 1 

That A Knowledge of Universal is Entailed by the 
Recognition of Particulars. Plato maintained that all 
men possess by nature a certain knowledge of universal*. 
If they did not, they would not, he held, be able to recog- 
nize that certain particulars exemplify them. In holding 
this view I think that Plato was also right. Let me take as 
an example the universal, whiteness, ami ask the question, 
" How do we come to know of a particular thing that it is 
white? " The answer which would normally be given to this 
question is, I think, as follows. When a baby is learning to 
talk, a particular white thing is pointed out to it and it 
is told, "That is white." Presently, another white thing, 
different from the first, is seen and the baby is told, "That, 
too, is white." When a number of different white things 
has been seen, the baby is supposed to abstract the quality 
which is common to each of them, the quality, that is to 
say, of being white, to hold it, as it were, in front of his 
mind independently of the things which exemplify it, 
and so to form the general concept of whiteness. Whiteness 
does not, on this view, exist apart from the things that are 
white. Whiteness is merely a conception of the mind which 
has been formed by abstracting the quality which a number 
of white things have in common. Whiteness is for this 
reason often called an abstract idea or concept. 

Plato would have demurred to this view for the following 
reasons! Let us go back to the first occasion on which a 
baby sees a white thing and is told, "That is white." Now 
either the expression "That is white" was for it a meaning- 
less noise or it was not If it was for the baby a meaningless 
noise, as meaningless as a grunt or a Greek polysyllable, 
it would leave no impression of meaning on its mind. 
1 See my Gvuh to Philosophy, Chapter X, pp. 262-270. 


Consequently, on the next occasion on which a white 
thing was seen and the baby was told "That, too, is white," 
there would be no residue of meaning in the baby's mind 
for the announcement to call up; there would, therefore, 
be no link between this second occasion of knowing a 
white thing and the first. Thus the process which is said 
to lead to the formation of abstract ideas would never 
be begun, since the baby would never have any foundation 
on which to build. For if, on the first occasion on which 
the word "white" was mentioned to it, the word was 
meaningless, it would be meaningless on the second 
occasion also. Now all people do have a general con- 
ception of whiteness. The conception, therefore, must 
have been reached by some other method, and on Plato's 
view, it must have been known in some sense from the 

Let us again revert to the first occasion on which a 
baby is told "That is white". If the expression "That is 
white" is meaningless for it, then, as we have seen, the 
process which ends in the comprehension of the general 
idea of whiteness could never have begun. Plato concludes, 
therefore, that on the first occasion on which the words 
"That is white " were addressed to the baby, they could not 
have been quite meaningless. There must, then, have been 
something in the baby's mind to which the expression 
"That is white" hitched on, and what can this something 
have been except a knowledge of what "being white" 
means? To know what "being white" means, is to have a 
kind of knowledge of the universal whiteness, and to have 
it from the first. 

Plato generalizes this point as follows. Whenever we 
come to know something on what appears to us to be the 
first occasion, the fact that we do come to know it pre- 
supposes some original acquaintance with what is known. 
To put the point in another way, we cannot learn some- 
thing new without already in some sense knowing what it 
is that we want to learn. Thus the thing learned turns out 
not to have been completely new, and the so-called learn- 


ing of it is a rediscovery of what was in some sense known 

That Learning is a Process of Rediscovery. This is 
brought out by a celebrated illustration in the Dialogue 
called the Meno y where Socrates cross-examines a slave in 
order to throw light upon* the nature of his knowledge of 
mathematical propositions. The slave is placed before the 
figure of a square, and Socrates proceeds to question him 
as to the nature of the square whose area is double that 
of the original square. Can he, for example, give any 
information about the side of this double square? The 
slave is at first at a loss, and makes a number of false 
suggestions. He suggests, for example, that the side of the 
double square is double the side of the original square, 
but in due course sees his error from "the nature of the 
thing itself", that is to say, from a simple inspection of 
the geometrical figure. Finally, he perceives in the diagonal 
of the given square the side of the double square which he is 
seeking. He sees this suddenly and he sees it for himself; 
Socrates does not, that is to say*, tell him the answer. 
Socrates's r61e is that of a cross-examiner whose object 
is to turn the attention of the examinee in the direction 
of an answer which he must see for himself or not at all. 
Evidently, therefore, Socrates concludes, the slave had in 
himself as an original possession the knowledge of which he 
is suddenly made conscious. Thus " teaching" is a process 
of directing the attention of the pupil to what he already 
knows. The teacher does not impart information to the 
pupil. He merely enables the pupil to convince himself of 
something which he sees for himself. Similarly, learning is a 
process by which the soul becomes re-acquainted .with what 
it already knows, or knows, but has forgotten that it knows. 
Learning, then, is the apprehension of inborn knowledge. It 
is "to recover of oneself knowledge from within oneself". 

The Pre-History of the Soul. Only on the assump- 
tion that learning is "a recovery of inborn knowledge" 


can the process of coming to know what appears to be 
"new be explained. As Plato sums the matter up, we 
cannot come by new knowledge; for, either we already 
know the knowledge which we wish to acquire, in which 
case the knowledge is not new, or we do not know the 
knowledge which we wish to acquire, in which case we 
cannot know when we acquire it. But if all the knowledge 
which we appear to acquire is already in some sense pos- 
sessed by us, how are we to explain the fact of our possession 
of it? Plato's answer is to be found in his doctrine of 
anamnesis or recollection. 

Briefly he supposes there was a time when, prior to 
its incarnation in the flesh, the soul of man enjoyed a 
complete and untrammelled knowledge of the universak, 
or, as Plato calls them, Forms. When, having entered the 
body, it subsequently comes across the manifestations of 
these universak as characteristics of particular things, it 
recognizes the characteristics in question as exemplifying 
the universak of which it already possesses knowledge. Let 
us follow Plato in his application of this general conception 
to the recognition of moral virtue. 

That Moral Virtue Cannot Be Taught. One of the 
questions which is prominently discussed in the early 
Dialogues k whether moral virtue can be taught. If, as 
Socrates maintains, virtue k a form of knowledge, 1 then, 
it k pointed out, you would expect virtue to be capable 
of being taught like any other branch of knowledge, for 
example, geometry. In fact, however, there are no teachers 
of, just because there are no experts in, virtue. It k, 
moreover, noteworthy that popular assemblies desirous 
of obtaining a decision on some question of policy involving 
moral issues what, Plato conceives them to be consider- 
ing, k it right as opposed to expedient for us to do? do 
not call in an expert, as they would do if some technical 
question of shipbuilding or fortifications were involved, 
but permit their discussions to be dominated and the issue 
1 See Chapter II, pp. 48-50. 


to be decided by whatever demagogue may happen to catch 
the ear of the majority. There are, then, no experts in 
virtue and virtue, it would seem, is not teachable. But, if 
it is not, then presumably it must be innate, for, if we 
do not learn a thing and yet know it, we must have 
known it from the first. How, then, explain the evil 
that men do, the variations in moral codes, the frequent 
preference of expediency to right and the frequent con- 
fusion of expediency with right? 

Plato answers these questions by invoking the theory 
of knowledge as an inborn possession of the soul, to which 
I have already referred. Virtue, which is knowledge of the 
Good, is, he argues, both innate and acquired. It is not 
innate in the sense that it is a conscious possession of 
every child at birth; there is not even an assurance that it 
will necessarily appear, as the child develops. It is innate 
in the sense that it is an inborn possession of the soul; it 
is acquired in the sense that whether that inborn possession 
is consciously realized, depends upon training and education. 
Its realization depends, that is to say, upon good moral 
instruction given in a right environment. Yet the virtue 
that results is not the creation of the moral instruction 
and the right environment, any more than the blossom 
on the plant in the conservatory is the creation of the 
conservatory. The blossom springs from the seed which 
was there from the first; the conservatory provides the 
environment in which alone the seed can blossom. 

That the Capacity to Recognize Value is Innate. 
It is not necessary to accept JPlato's metaphysical teaching 
with regard to the prior existence of the soul and the direct 
knowledge of universal* or Forms, which it is conceived to 
have in its discarnate state, in order to recognize the 
strength of his position. The feeling of duty, the recognition 
of right are not, it is obvious, acquirements that we pick 
up from our environment as we grow and develop. Unless 
therefore, we are prepared to grant that there is in the 
human soul from the first a capacity to recognize and to 


pursue the Good, it is impossible to account for the fact 
of moral experience. As I have already pointed out, an 
initial knowledge of good, an initial recognition of moral 
obligation, are presupposed in the distinction which we 
habitually make between the right and the expedient. 
Unless from the very beginning, we were endowed with 
the capacity to recognize the good and to distinguish it 
from the expedient, it would be impossible to account for 
this distinction. Nevertheless, it is also true that the 
capacity to recognize the good remains, like any other 
capacity, latent unless occasions are provided for its 
exercise. It is doubtful, that is to say, to revert to a familiar 
example, whether in a man deposited at birth on an 
uninhabited island it would ever develop at all, for the 
reason that it is doubtful whether a congenital Robinson 
Crusoe could be considered fully human. 

Just as in some the capacity to recognize and pursue the 
good remains undeveloped, so in others its development 
is warped. In a bad environment a man's innate inclina- 
tion to pursue what he takes to be good may be directed 
towards mistaken ends, so that he finds ifc money, place, 
or privilege, the slaughter of his kind, or the rapid move* 
ment of pieces of matter in space, the sufficient end of 
human existence. As Socrates would put it, when we have 
been improperly trained we may make misjudgments as 
to what is really good, taking to be good what is not. 
But the fact that we can make misjudgments about what 
is good does not alter the fact that we value it, and that 
it is our noblest qualities which are often enlisted in the 
cause of ignoble ends; thus war and the miseries and 
cruelties which, in pursuit of war, men have inflicted 
upon one another, have often been prompted by motives 
from which it is impossible to withhold our admiration. 

Let me attempt to translate Plato's general conclusion 
into my own terms: value is a universal of which all men 
have an innate knowledge; all men, therefore, have an 
innate capacity for recognizing the forms which value 
assuniaL Of these, moral virtue is one, beauty another. 


They also have the capacity for recognizing those particu- 
lars in which the forms of value such as moral virtue and 
beauty are exemplified. If this were not the case, we should 
not know a good man when we meet him, any more than 
we should know a beautiful picture when we see it; nor 
would ethical imperatives based upon intuitions of value, 
for example, that we ought to do our duty, that we ought 
to tell the truth, that we ought not to make other people 
miserable, that we ought to keep our promises, any more 
than aesthetic valuations, for example, that this sonnet 
is better than that one, or that the Adagio of Bach's 
Double Violin Concerto is better than the song of a 
crooner, have any meaning for us. 

Relation of Knowledge of Universals to Recognition of 
Particulars. It is only if we assume that there is innate 
knowledge of value and of that manifestation of value which 
is moral virtue, that we can explain our recognition of 
the goodness of a particular person, or of the obligation to 
perform a particular duty. A knowledge of the universal, 
moral virtue, must, in other words, precede the recognition 
that particulars exemplify the universal, just as a knowledge 
of redness must precede the recognition that a particular 
object is red* But activity of the mind tnat recognizes 
a particular does not terminate with the recognition of 
the particular; it is led to the apprehension of something 
beyond the particular, and achieves an enhanced knowledge 
of the universal. Every time we recognize a beautiful 
picture, every time we acknowledge a man's virtue, our 
aesthetic taste is refined, our moral sensibility increased. 
Every time we set our hands, however inadequately, to * 
the making of a beautiful thing, every time we try in the 
face of temptation to do our duty, our knowledge of beauty 
is increased, our moral character strengthened. 

How, Aristotle asked, does a man become good, and 
answered in my view, correctly by doing good acts. 
How, it may be asked, does a man come to have good 
taste. The answer, mutatis mutandis, is the same; by having 


continual intercourse with beautiful things. Thus the 
recognition of particulars enlarges that knowledge of 
universals which is already presupposed in the recognition 
of particulars. 

The process of character formation may, therefore, be 
described as follows. We start with an initial knowledge 
of moral virtue which is innate. In the light of this know- 
ledge we recognize those characters which possess virtue 
and those actions which it is our duty to* do and feel an 
obligation to perform them. On each occasion on 
which we recognize the virtue of others, on each occasion 
on which we acknowledge the pull of obligation upon our- 
selves, our knowledge of the universal is deepened and 
enriched. The process may be metaphorically likened to 
that of filling in the outlines of a sketch, or clothing a 
skeleton with flesh and blood. The same principle applies 
in the realm of aesthetics; it is because we have an innate 
feeling for beauty that we are able to recognize and 
acclaim beautiful things, while the repeated recognition 
of beautiful things deepens and enhances our knowledge 
of beauty. The process of forming good taste and of building 
up a good character is, from this point of view, that of 
coming to know the universals beauty and goodness, or 
rather of coming to know in "the flesh' 1 something of which 
we had what may be termed "an academic" knowledge 
from the first. 

In What Forms does Value Reveal Itself? We have 
now to ask what is the nature of this value of which, 
I am contending, we have an innate recognition, and in 
what particulars does it manifest itself? To take the second 
question first, the answer is, I suggest, one of fact. What 
are the things which men recognize to be ultimately 
valuable, in the sense that they desire and value them for 
their own sake, desiring and valuing other things only 
in JK> far as they are a xfieans to these ultimates? The 
traditional answer is that they are three; goodness, which 
I am calling moral virtue, truth and beauty. I think that 

440 * ETHICS 

this answer is correct, so far as it goes, but I would add 
a fourth value,, happiness. Even if happiness is not the 
only value it is, as 1 have tried to show, something which 
is, in fact, valuable. Indeed, it seems probable that no 
state of mind can be wholly valuable unless it contains 
as an ingredient some happiness. If the traditional answer 
is, as I am suggesting, correct, then it will be true to say 
that all human beings do in the long run desire and value 
the same things: That they should do so, is not, on reflection, 
surprising. Human beings are the expressions of the same 
creative impulse; they evolve in the same environment; 
their natures are cast in the same mould. Running through 
all the differences between man and man is the element 
of their common humanity. Now the distinctive mark of 
our common humanity is, I am suggesting, that all men 
recognize truth, appreciate beauty, seek to attain virtue, 
and desire happiness. That all men do not do these 
things all the time is, of course, true. The reason for this 
failure I shall consider in a moment: for the present, I 
am content to make the point that, though our minds may 
be clouded by ignorance, our desires distorted by passion, 
our impulses led astray by bad training and education, 
we are all human beings, and that the fact of what I have 
called our common humanity, the fact that we are the 
products of the same process, are cast in the same mould, 
and react to the same environment, makes it plausible to 
suppose that we should, on the whole, evince the same 
basic tendencies, and that these tendencies are, other 
things being equal, tendencies to pursue and desire value. 

That Our Moral Notions are Never Purely Subjective. 
The realization that our fundamental tendencies and 
propensities are, at least in part, a function of the response 
of the human spirit to what is, for all of us, fundamentally 
the same environment, provides an important argument 
against Subjectivism. Subjectivist .writers, as we have 
seen, regard our notions of value as self-invented. The 
human spirit, conscious of its loneliness in a universe 


which is alien from itself, invents personages and values for 
its assurance and comfort, and peoples with them the 
world outside itself. To primitive man the universe in 
some of its moods appears deliberately hostile. He creates, 
therefore, spirits, in his own likeness, bearded, jealous, 
angry and possessive, projects them outside himself, 
gives them a position somewhere above the clouds, and 
then solicits their intervention in his favour. The scientist 
substitutes the vast impersonality of astronomical space 
and geological time for the all-too-human deities that 
inform the savage's little world. The scientist's universe, if 
less hostile, is more lonely, so lonely, so remote, that man 
cannot tolerate the thought of its otherness and his insignifi- 
cance. And so he invents the values goodness, truth and 
beauty, projects them into the world without, insists that 
something worthy of reverence must be at the heart of 
things, and proceeds to revere the shadows which he has 
cast upon the empty canvas of a meaningless universe. 

The explanation is plausible rather than convincing. 
Subjectivism is the ethical creed appropriate to the stand- 
point of science, whose tendency is to classify man as 
an inhabitant of the natural world and to study him as a 
product of the natural order. Produced by the forces which 
determine the movements of the physical universe, exposed 
to the stimuli of a physical environment which has 
moulded him and to which he reacts, man's nature cannot, 
if regarded from the point of view of the scientist, contain 
within itself any elements save what, if I may so phrase 
it, the physical environment has put there, or manifest 
behaviour save such as its physical environment has 
evoked in it. This will be no less true of man's spiritual 
aspirations and his intuitions of value than of his sexual 
desires and his physical movements. His spiritual aspira- 
tions and his intuitions of value cannot, then, be completely 
meaningless in the sense that they own no counterpart 
in the external world, for, since they too are but one of 
the forms of man's reaction to a world outside himself, 
they cannot but reflect the factors in the external world 

442 . ETHICS 

to which they are reactions. Thus the very view which 
insists upon man's wholly natural origin and die consequent 
determination of all the processes of his being, mental as 
well as physical, by those forces which operate universally 
in the physical world, is precluded by this very insistence 
from giving a purely subjectivist account of any of the 
expressions of man's nature, and is precluded, therefore, 
from giving a purely subjectivist account of his intuitions 
of value. These cannot be quite arbitrary; there must be 
somttUng in the physical universe to account for their 
existence, to respond to their intimations, and to correspond 
to their deliverances since, otherwise, it would be impossible 
to account for the fact that we do all possess them. For 
if man's intuitions are the reflections of nothing whatever 
outside himself, then we must credit him with precisely 
that power of spontaneous creation which the naturalistic 
view denies. 

If, however, in spite of the foregoing considerations it 
is still insisted that our intuitions of value are purely 
subjective, then, as I have already pointed out in the 
chapter on free will, 1 our intuitions of truth will be no 
less subjective than our intuitions of other forms of value, 
and we shall have no ground on which to claim validity 
for any argument. There is, then, no ground for the claim 
to validity advanced on behalf of subjectivist arguments. 

That Each Form of Value Manifests Itself in a Specific 
Medium. The conclusion of the foregoing is that the 
fact that we recognize and respond to value is most 
readily explicable on the assumption that value exists and is 
objectively real. The question, what things are recognized 
and responded to as being valuable, is, as I have already 
suggested, one of fact. To answer it, we must turn to 
history and ask what tilings people have in the past 
regarded as valuable in and for themselves, and to 
psychology and ask what things people now regard as 
being valuable in and for themselves. I have accepted 

See Chapter VII, pp. 273, 274. 


the traditional answer to these questions, which is that 
the ultimate values are truth, moral virtue and beauty, 
to which I have added a fourth, happiness. 

These values, I affirm, are manifested in particular 
things, but in different sorts of particular things, each 
value choosing, as it were, an appropriate medium for 
its manifestation and exemplification. Thus moral virtue 
is manifested in the Characters and dispositions of persons. 
We recognize it when it is present in others, and realize 
its presence in ourselves when we acknowledge the obli- 
gation to do what we call our duty, and are motivated to 
pursue for its own sake what the Greeks called the Good. 
Beauty is manifested in physical things, in paint and stone 
and sound and landscape, or, more precisely, in particular 
forms or arrangements of physical things; truth in proposi- 
tions, happiness in states of consciousness. 

That the Value, Moral Virtue, is the Same in all its 
Manifestations. The quality of value is always the same 
the dogmatism of these statements must be pardoned; 
I have tried to give reasons for them at length elsewhere 1 
a value does not, that is to say, vary with variations in 
the medium in which it is manifested. 

To amplify this statement in its bearing upon ethics, 
I mean that it is the same moral virtue which is present 
as a common element in all the so-called "virtues", and 
it is by reason of the presence of this common element 
that we value them. What determines the particular form 
of the manifestation of the value which is moral virtue, 
whether, for example, in the "virtue" of courage, or of 
unselfishness, or of kindliness, is the nature and disposition 
of the person in whom the value is manifested, the circum- 
stances, with which he is confronted, and the training which 
he has received. 

The Greeks distinguished four cardinal virtues, insight 
or wisdom, courage or resolution in face of danger, the 

1 In my Motto, Lift and Value, Chapters VI-X, and in my Philosophical 
Aspects of Motkrn Scitnct, Chapters X and XL 


restraint of the satisfaction of impulse, and justice or 
regard for the claims of others. But it was, they affirmed, 
the same Good that was manifested in all of these, the 
nature of its manifestation being dictated by the circum- 
stances. Thus the circumstance of war evolved a manifesta- 
tion of the Good in the form of courage; the problem of 
the satisfaction of desire evoked its manifestation in the 
form of temperance or restraint; the claims made upon 
us by others in that of justice, while wisdom or insight 
into the nature of the circumstances which confront us 
is. called for in all the chances and changes of life. But 
just as it is the same whiteness which appears in snow 
and cream, so it is the same moral virtue which appears 
in all the "virtues". And if we proceed to ask why a man 
has one virtue and not another, why one man, for example, 
is brave but cruel, and another kind but cowardly, the 
answer is because the medium in which the value, moral 
virtue, is manifested, namely, human character and disposi- 
tion, varies from individual to individual. The factors 
which determine these variations between one human 
personality and another are heredity, environment, train- 
ing and, we may add, innate personal differences between 
man and man. To invoke a simile, if a piece of doth is 
placed in front of a light, the light will shine through 
here more clearly, there less clearly, as the texture of 
the doth varies from place to place, and the places 
of greatest and least intensity of illumination will be 
different from those in a broadly similar piece of doth 
because of innate differences of texture between the two 

The Boundary between Ethics and Theology. It is, I 
think, dear that the line of argument which I have been 
following admits, nay, more, it demands an extension. 
If, whenever I perceive common qualities, I deduce a 
universal which is manifested in the particulars that 
exhibit the qualities, postulating a universal whiteness to 
account for the common quality which is exhibited by all 


white things, and a universal beauty to account for the 
common quality possessed by all beautiful things, am I 
not required by die logic of the argument to postulate a 
universal value to account for the common quality 
possessed by all those things that are recognized as being 
valuable in and for themselves, that is to say, as being 
absolutely valuable? I am not referring here merely to the 
common quality possessed by all virtuous characters, 
since, for this, I have already postulated the existence of 
an absolute value, which I have called moral virtue; nor 
am I referring to the common quality possessed by all 
beautiful things, or by all true propositions, for which I 
have postulated the existence of the absolute values, 
beauty and truth. What is now in question is the common 
quality possessed by moral virtue, by beauty and by truth, 
the quality, by reason of their possession of which I have 
been led to affirm that they are, indeed, absolute values; 
and what the line of argument I have been following 
demands is that I should now postulate a further universal 
to account for the common quality possessed by these three 
absolute values, moral virtue, beauty and truth, a universal 
which must be denoted by some such expression as "value 
as such". What, then, is "value as such"? We cannot say, 
since, save perhaps in religious experience, we know 
"value as such" only through its manifestations in moral 
virtue, beauty, truth and happiness. Theology, however, 
knows it as God, and speaks of truth, goodness and beauty 
as the attributes of God, or the forms in which God is 
manifested, or the-aspects under which He is made known 
to man. At thi* point we reach the boundary of ethics and 
enter the confines of religion, and beyond this point, there- 
fore, I cannot go. It is sufficient for my present purpose 
to draw attention to the need for some unifying universal 
value, which is the source of the common quality possessed 
by the absolute values, as they are the source of the com- 
mon qualities whether of beauty, of truth, or of moral virtue 
possessed by the particulars in which they are manifested, 
a need which has been acknowledged by all those who have 


followed this line of thought. Socrates called this unifying 
value the Good; Plato, the Form of the Good. Nor can it 
be doubted that, when Socrates announced that virtue 
is knowledge, knowledge, that is to say, of die Good, he 
meant by the term "the Good" not moral virtue, but that 
universal value, which is at once the source o and the 
common element in, the particular, absolute values truth, 
moral virtue, beauty and happiness. To avoid confusion, 
I propose to call the universal value, which is the source of 
the common quality exhibited by the other values, "first 
order value". Then beauty, moral virtue, truth and 
happiness, which I have hitherto called ultimates, will 
be "second order values", and virtuous characters, the 
actions in which virtuous characters find their habitual 
expression, beautiful pictures, true propositions and happy 
states of mind will be "third order values." 

Summary Statement of Theory of Value. It will be 
convenient to summarize the argument up to the point 
now reached. I am maintaining that the universe is, or 
rather that it contains for I do not think that everything 
that is, is valuable or partakes of value a unique and 
independent factor which I am calling first order value. 
Fint order value which may be identical with what the 
theologians know as Deity, manifests itself in the form of 
second order values, moral virtue, truth, beauty and 
happiness. The mind of man, I am further suggesting, 
possesses an innate knowledge of these second order 
values and, accordingly, recognizes their manifestations 
as third order values in particular persons and things, 
and is moved to appreciate, to approve and to pursue 
what it recognizes. At the present stage in the evolution 
of our species this capacity for recognition, approval and 
pursuit is intermittent and precarious; but there seems 
reason to think that it grows, albeit slowly, as the evolu- 
tion of mankind proceeds. Indeed, it may not be too fanciful 
to suggest that die object of the evolutionary process is so 
to perfect and refine human consciousness that it becomes 


capable of unerringly, instead of imperfectly, recognizing 
these values, and of continuously instead of, as at present, 
intermittently pursuing them. If I may be permitted again 
to resort to metaphor, the faltering and uncertain character 
of our moral and aesthetic experience may be likened to 
the perception of a place where there is light by those 
whose eyes are as yet not fully open. Every now and then 
there shoot down from the place where the light is flashes 
and gleams which dazzle and blind their faltering vision, 
so that they cannot tell what they have seen, or even be 
sure, if they have seen at all. Sometimes their senses are 
almost entirely sealed, so that they pass their lives unaware 
of the shining of the light. Nevertheless, the place where the 
light is is a real place, and it is by reference to their increasing 
ability to catch the gleams, so that they may in the end 
become continuously aware of the light, that their progress 
is to be measured. 

The subject of this book is the theory of ethics and 
politics and not theory of value. I cannot, therefore, further 
elaborate die theory here outlined. Two questions, how- 
ever, remain, about which something must be* said. First, 
since at the level of evolution which we have at present 
reached, value is, indeed, recognized, albeit intermittently, 
and pursued, albeit falteringly, why is its recognition 
intermittent and why is its pursuit faltering? Why, in fact, 
to put the question in its ethical form, do we not always 
do what is right and pursue what is good? Secondly, 
there remains the question which has presented itself on 
a number of occasions in the course of earlier discussions, 
what, on the view here outlined, do we mean by right 
actions, and what is their relation to moral virtue? 


The Influence of Training and Environment in 
Promoting or .Obscuring the Perception of the 
Good* To the first question there are two answers. The 


first, an answer in terms of social ethics, stresses the obvious 
influence of training and environment. All human beings, 
I have suggested, possess a natural tendency to approve 
of certain characters as moral and of certain forms of 
conduct as right; but what characters they will approve 
of, what actions they will call right, depends very largely 
upon their environment and training. As Plato insisted, 
the ordinary man does not make his morals any more than 
he makes his politics or his religion for himself; he takes 
them ready made, as he takes his boots and his clothes, 
from the social shop. If he is born in Balham, he thinks 
it wrong to have more than one wife, and looks upon 
Mahommedans as heretics; if in Baghdad, he considers 
it right to have four wives, provided he can afford their main- 
tenance and believes that Allah is God and Mahommed is 
His prophet; if in contemporary Russia, that Capitalism is 
wicked, that there is no God and that Karl Marx is His 
prophet To this extent and in this sense morality is topo- 
graphical, what a man will think right and good depending 
on the latitude and longitude of the house in which he 
happens to be born. 

Where there are so many conflicting opinions about right 
and good, they cannot, it is obvious, all be correct; some of 
them, at least, must be mistaken in the sense that they 
will take to be good that which is not and ignore the good 
which is* These mistakes of insight are often due to faulty 
training and to bad environment. As Aristotle pointed 
out, it is impossible to be a really good man in a really 
bad State, 1 if only because the content of one's morality 
comes to one so largely from the community to which one 

Nor is it only for mistakes of insight that social-environ- 
ment may be responsible. As I have several times had 
occasion to point out, the ethical problem is a double one; 
not only may a man fail to see his duty, he may fail, 
through weakness of will, to do the duty that he sees. 
Now the will can, it is obvious, be strengthened by right 
1 See Chapter IV, pp. 91,92. 


training and assisted by a good environment. Aristotle, 
it will be remembered 1 , distinguished virtues of character 
from virtues of intellect, and held that the former could be 
inculcated by right training and fostered by a good environ- 
ment. Experience bears out his view. If a child is indulged 
from its earliest year, permitted to gratify every whim and 
encouraged to shirk every difficulty, when it reaches 
maturity, it will be found deficient in powers of will and of 
concentration. Our species has evolved by means of 
struggle and endeavour. Those who are exempt from the 
necessity for struggle, those who have no incentive to make 
endeavours, will fail to develop the specifically human 
qualities of will-power and resolution which struggle and 
endeavour have engendered. Thus the failure to do the 
right which we see, no less than die failure to see what is 
right, may be in large part the result of faulty training 
and bad environment. 

But this answer, adequate so far as it goes, does not 
take us very far. It only puts the problem further back. 
For if faulty insight and deficient will power are due to 
wrong training and bad environment, we have still to ask, 
why is training wrong and why is environment bad? 
For, clearly, those who are responsible for the training 
and the environment, the educators and legislators and 
rulers, who determine the character, mould the traditions 
and set the standards of a community, must, if the character 
is bad, the traditions misleading, and the standards low, be 
themselves open to censure. They too must have failed to 
see the Good or to pursue the Good which they saw. 
Thus the same problem presents itself in another form, 
why did they fail? 

That Evil is Real and Objective. We come here to 
the second answer to our first question, an answer which 
bases itself upon the presence in the universe of evil. Evil 
has not hitherto been mentioned in these pages. The reason 
for this omission is that evil occupies a comparatively small 

1 See Chapter IV, pp. 105, 106. 


space in the works of writers upon ethics. Ethical writers 
have tended to look askance at evil; they have even pro- 
duced, treatises which have ignored it altogether. When 
they have treated evil, they have generally sought to explain 
it away, representing it as something negative, the absence 
or deprivation of the good that there might be, or as 
something illusory, an appearance due to the limitations 
or defects of human vision. 

Any such treatment seems to the present writer to falsify 
the nature of our ethical experience. To me it seems clear 
that evil is a fact as real, as definite and as recognizable 
as good. The subject raises metaphysical issues and can 
only here be treated in the most cursory way. I propose, 
however, to offer a number of brief observations in support 
of the view just expressed, that evil is a real and independ- 
ent factor in the universe. I shall also try to show why 
the attempts to explain it away, or to analyse it in terms 
of something else which is not evil, must necessarily fail. 

If I am right in holding that evil no less than good, 
disvalue no less than value, is a real and independent 
factor in the universe, and that the idea of it like the idea 
of good is simple, indefinable and unanalysable, it will 
follow that any view which seeks to define evil in terms 
of anything else, as being, for example, the deprivation of 
good, or as a necessary condition for the manifestation of 
good, or as pain, or as sin, must be rejected. To say that evil is 
pain, or is a necessary condition for the manifestation of 
good will be, if I am right, to make an affirmation about 
the sort of things that aje evil but not to define evil. I 
will try as briefly as I can to defend this view. First, I will 
discuss its bearing upon the thcistic hypothesis. 

The Reality of Evil and the Thcistic Hypothesis. 
Owing to the difficulty of reconciling the reality of evil 
with the existence of a creative deity who is both beneficent 
and omnipotent, many writers try to show that evil is in 
some sense unreal, or is an illusion. 
The main reason for this endeavour is, it is obvious, 


the desire to preserve the ethical virtue of the character 
of a deity who is conceived to be omnipotent and to have 
created die universe. Even, however, if we admit that evil 
is unreal or is an illusion, we do not achieve the desired 
result. For, if evil is unreal, then error 19 real. There is 
no doubt that we think that we suffer pain and that we 
think that men do us evil. We think also that the pain 
which we suffer and the evil which is done to us are real. 
Either this belief of ours is a mistake, or it is not. If it 
is not, pain and evil are real. If it is, then the error we 
make in thinking them to be real is a real error (if it were 
an unreal error, then we should not really be making a 
mistake in thinking pain and evil to be real, and pain and 
evil would be real). Therefore, the character of the deity 
is such as to permit us to labour under a real error which, 
if He chose, He could remove. Nevertheless, He does not 
remove it but allows us to be deceived as to die real nature 
of pain and evil. But an omnipotent being has not the 
need, a benevolent being has not the wish to deceive. 

I conclude, then, that, since the view 6f evil as being 
in some sense unreal does not have the desired consequence 
of vindicating the moral character of a creative deity who 
is conceived to be omnipotent, the main incentive for 
holding it is removed. 

That Evil Though Real is Indefinable. What, then, 
are the arguments for the view that evil is, like good, a 
real and independent principle, which is also unanalysable 
and indefinable? 

The best way to realize the unanalysable and indefin- 
able character of evil is to consider the attempts which 
have been made to define it in terms of some other char- 
acter or combination of characters. 

(i) Evil might, for example, be defined as what one ought 
to try to avoid. This substitutes the indefinable "ought" 
for Ac indefinable "evil". But the notion of "evil" is far 
wider than what we ought to try to avoid. We can only 
try to avoid the things we know. But there is no reason to 


suppose that there are not many evils of which human 
beings have and tan have no knowledge. Such evils would 
still be evils although human conduct could have no refer- 
ence to them* 

(t) A subjective definition of good is, as we have seen, 
"what is desired"; on this view evil would be "what is not 
desired". Such a definition makes evil purely subjective, 
and, since A's suffering, which may not be desired by 
A, may be desired by B, it will follow that the same thing 
will be both good and evil at the same time. There is no 
logical refutation of this view, but it is pertinent to point 
out that it destroys the possibility of ethics and transforms 
it into a branch of psychology. 

It is thus exposed to the objections which belong to any 
form of Subjectivism. 1 

(m) There is one general argument, which has already 
been used in another connection, by which the view that 
evil is definable in terms of something other than itself 
can be refuted. If this argument is valid, it disposes of any 
definition of evil in terms of pain or osin, or of disobedi- 
ence to the will of God; these things may be evil, but they 
are not what evil means. The argument is as follows. If 
anyone affirms that evil is X, we consider the proposition 
and either assent or dissent. In either case our assent or 
dissent is determined by considering what we know about 
X and about evil, and, when we do so, we think of them as 
two different things. Let us contrast this with a case of true 
definition. If a person says that a quadrilateral is a figure 
with four sides, we do not consider what we know about 
quadrilaterals and then agree or disagree* We accept the 
definition at once, knowing that it gives us information not 
about quadrilaterals, but merely about the way in which 
the word quadrilateral is used. A true definition in fact 
always applies to words, and is the sort of thing one finds 
in a dictionary. But when we are told that evil is X, we 
realize that what is being communicated is not merely a 
dictionary definition but an important philosophical 
1 For an account of thac see Chapter XI, pp. 384-389. 


generalization about the nature of things. If it were in fact 
the case that the meaning of evil and the meaning of X 
always applied to the same things, and that there was no 
case of the one applying and not the other, then one would 
have hit upon an important truth, and it would be an 
important truth just because we should already have a 
definite (though unanalysable) meaning for the word evil 
in our minds, which we could compare with the known 
meaning of X and recognize to be identical with it. In 
other words the proposition "evil is X", whether right 
or wrong, is a significant and not merely a verbal proposi- 
tion. It is not a statement to the effect that two words are 
being used in the same sense. Hence though the proposition 
may in fact be true, it does not give us the meaning of the 
word evil, and it does not do this for the reason that there 
is no word X such that the meaning of it is identical with 
that of the word evil. 

It follows that statements like "evil is disobedience to 
the will of God", or "evil is absence of good", are not 
dictionary definitions like the definition of a quadrilateral, 
but are affirmations about the things that are evil. This, 
indeed, seems in any event probable from the number of 
different and incompatible definitions of evil that have in 
fact been suggested. There have never been two incom- 
patible definitions of the word "quadrilateral". 

That Evil is Not the Deprivation or Opposite of Good. 
(iv) A word may be added with regard to the particular 
definition of evil as "the absence of", or "the deprivation 
of", or "the limitation of good," a view which, for reasons 
already given, is often put forward on theological grounds. 
On this view, whatever is, is good; starting from this 
assumption philosophers have endeavoured to prove that 
the world is all good. Spinoza, for example, says "by 
reality and perfection I mean the same thing", Now this 
view, in so far as it asserts that evil consists not in the exist- 
ence of something which is bad, but only in the non-exist- 
ence of something which is good, equates the meaning of 


the term evil with something else X in this case is "the 
absence or limitation of what is good" , and falls under 
the criticism stated in (Hi) above. 

This particular view contains, however, a latent implica- 
tion which is worth disentangling. The implication is 
that good and evil are opposites, and opposites of such a 
kind that the presence of the one means or is equivalent 
to the absence of the other. This, at least, is thought to be 
true of the absence of good, although I do not know whether 
some people would also be prepared to maintain that good 
is or is equivalent to the absence of evil. 

There seems to be no reason to suppose that good and 
^vil are opposites of this kind. In order that it may be seen 
that they are not, it is necessary to make a distinction 
between types of opposites. There are opposites such that 
the presence of the one involves the absence of the other. 
The opposites "emptiness" and "fulness" are examples 
of this type; in proportion as a container is not full, in 
precisely that same proportion is it empty. The same may 
be said of the opposites "dryness" and "wetness". But 
there is another type of so-called opposites such that the 
absence of the one does not entail the presence of the 
other. Black and white axe usually regarded as opposites; 
yet it is not true that, if a thing is not white, it must be 
black; it may be red. Nor is it even true that, in propor- 
tion as white is absent from it, black must be present in it. 

Now it seems to me that the "oppositeness" which good 
and evil exemplify is of this latter type. I can see no reason 
whatever for holding either that a thing must be good or 
evil, or that, in proportion as good is absent from it, evil 
must be present in it. Many things and most actions seem 
to be ethically neutral. It seems fantastic to assert of such 
an action as that of moving one finger of my left hand 
an inch to the right of this paper upon which I am writing 
with my right hand, that it is either good or bad. But if it 
is possible for good to be absent without evil being in any 
way involved by its absence, it follows that evil does not 
mean the absence or limitation of good. 


The above are some of the reasons which lead me to 
conclude that evjl is a real factor in the universe. I would 
further suggest that it is the presence of evil which in some 
unexplained way accounts for our failure to pursue the Good 
which we sec, or to perform the duty which we recognize. 


It remains to say something of the relation between 
moral virtue and right action. First, with regard to the 
meaning of the expression "right action", the utilitarians 
are, I think, correct in holding that this must be sought 
in the consequences of the action. A right action is, 
in fact, that one which of all those which it is open 
to the agent to do has the best possible consequences. 
I have, however, suggested that the utilitarians were 
wrong in assessing "best consequences" solely in terms 
of quantity of pleasure. If there is any truth in the theory 
of value outlined above, not pleasure only, but beauty, 
truth and moral virtue are all valuable in themselves. 
''Best consequences" will, therefore, be those that contain 
the greatest amount of, or are most conducive to, the 
promotion of happiness, beauty, truth and moral virtue. 

While any consequences that include or promote the 
manifestation of any of the four values are good, I do not 
wish to suggest that the "best consequences" are those 
that contain equal amounts of each of the values. The 
extent to which the values should be mingled in the good 
life, is a question upon which it is rash to venture a dog- 
matic opinion. It may be the case that, as the Greeks 
thought, the best life is an all-round life in which all forms 
of value are in some degree embodied and blended. It 
may be that different men ought to pursue these values 
and embody them in their lives in different degrees, so 
that one man will realize what the Greeks would have 
called his proper end in the creation and appreciation of 
beauty, another in the search for truth, another in the 


achievement 'of moral virtue. Plato and Aristotle were, I 
think, wrong in supposing that there were at most two 
kinds of good life to be lived by men. The Christian doctrine 
of vocation suggests that there may be several. What is 
essential and the greatest debt that we owe to modern 
liberal and democratic thinking is that we should have 
come to realize that it is essential 1 is that each man 
should be permitted and enabled to choose for himself 
the kind of good life best suited to him; permitted, that is 
to say, by his fellows, and enabled by his training and 
education. So far as the present discussion is concerned, 
I am disposed to hazard the view that, while good conse- 
quences will be those which contain or promote some one 
or other of the four values, it is probable that the best life 
will contain or promote something of them all. I do not 
know how to support this view. Values are, as I have tried 
to show, intuitively perceived, and the proportions in 
which they should, in an ideal life, be mixed, may well be 
the subject of another intuition. 

Moore's Intuitionism of Ends. The conclusions just 
outlined are in many respects similar to those reached 
by Professor G. . Moore in his Principia Ethica, from 
which, indeed, they are largely derived. Intuitions to the 
effect that certain actions are right or wrong are* he holds, 
for the reasons given in a previous chapter, 1 untrustworthy. 
To this extent Professor Moore is a utilitarian, who demands 
that the worth of actions must be assessed by reference to 
their consequences. But the value of consequences can, he 
points out, only be established by intuitions in regard to 
what is good, and he agrees that goods, or as I have called 
them, values, may be of more than one kind although the 
word " good " stands, he thinks, for a unique conception. 

The Nature of Happiness as a Value. Between the four 
values I have postdated, there is one important difference. 

1 See Chapter XVIII, pp. 741 and 750-758, for m development 
of this view. 
See Chapter VIII, pp 295-301. 


Two of them, truth and beauty, arc independent both, in 
themselves and in their manifestations of human conscious- 
ness. The function of human consciousness in relation to 
these values is limited to recognition of the first and 
appreciation of the second. The other two values, however, 
happiness and moral virtue, do belong to human conscious- 
ness, are, indeed, as many would say, states of human 
consciousness. Of the mode of manifestation of these two 
values, which belong more particularly to the sphere of 
ethics, something more must be said. 

If the criticism of Hedonism contained in the preceding 
chapter* is valid, happiness differs from the other values 
by reason of the fact that it cannot, or rather that it 
should not, be made thfe object of direct pursuit. Happiness, 
I have suggested, is of the nature of a by-product which 
enriches the consciousness of a healthy organism whose 
energy is fully engaged in an activity appropriate to the 
organism. What is meant by "an activity appropriate to 
the organism", and what, if any, is the generic charac- 
teristic of those states of consciousness which happiness 

All states of consciousness are, I suggested in the last 
chapter,' directed upon something and derive their dis- 
tinctive qualities, including their feeling tone, from the 
nature of the object upon which they are directed. 3 
An appropriate activity of consciousness is, then, one which 
is keenly directed upon a worthy object, which absorbs 
its interest. What is a worthy object? 

Amid the apparently embarrassing variety of answers 
with which the great moralists of the past have presented 
us, there can be detected a certain underlying unanimity. 
Happiness, I am maintaining, is a sign of the worthy 
employment of our conscious faculties; conversely, bore- 
dom and apathy will be a sign of their unworthy employ- 

* See Chapter XI, pp. 400-406. 
Sec Chapter XI, pp. ^10-412. 

1 For an elaboration of this view which belongs to theory of knowledge, 
see my Philosophical Aspects of Modern Scitnct, Chapters IV, V and VI. 



meat. The question, " How is boredom to be avoided, " is one 
that has particularly intrigued the moralists, and their 
answer has been, "By hard work." Pointing out that work 
is the only occupation which, mankind has been able 
to tolerate except in very small doses, they have recom- 
mended unremitting effort as a recipe for the good life. 
"A man is seldom so harmlessly occupied," said Dr. John- 
son, "as when he is making money." 

Recipe for Happiness. The answer is in accordance 
with the teaching of evolutionary ethics. It also embodies 
the conclusions of the by-product theory of pleasure. 1 But, 
while providing for the absorption of the activity of com 
sciousness for, when we work hard, our consciousness is 
intensely engaged it offers no suggestions as to the nature 
of the object upon which the activity of consciousness 
may be most fruitfully directed; and surely, it may be said, 
some objects of conscious activity are better than others. 
What objects? Spinoza comes nearest to the answer which 
I am suggesting in this chapter, when he tells us that 
"happiness or unhappiness depends on the quality of the 
objects which we love. Love towards a thing eternal and 
infinite fills the mind wholly with joy and is unmingled 
with any sadness." The word "love" in this quotation 
is, I think, important. We are never bored or unhappy 
when we are planning or endeavouring for someone whom 
we love, or for a cause for which we care. To love one's 
work is also a sure basis for happiness. Spinoza, however, 
specifies more particularly things "infinite and eternal". 
Now thcae, in the terms of the foregoing theory of value, 
will be the absolute values, truth, goodness and beauty. 
From this point of view, it is highly significant that nobody 
is unhappy when he is trying to make something that is 
beautiful, or is engaged in the research that is inspired 
only by the wish to find out what is true. This is 
perhaps what Goethe meant when he said: "He who has 
science and art has also religion." Such pleasures are, says 
1 See Chapter XI, pp. 400-406. 


Spinoza, "unmingled with any sadness". They are also 
the pleasures which Plato described as pun;. 1 

We can, then, give a further meaning to the statement, 
happiness is the by-product of an appropriate activity of 
consciousness, and add that happiness is something which 
graces and completes activities of consciousness, which are 
engaged in the pursuit or realization of some one of the 
other three values. Thus the enjoyment of the value which 
is happiness is a sign of the presence, or perhaps I should 
say, of the quest of one of the other three values. This 
conclusion may be put formally by stating that happiness 
should be regarded not as A substantive, but as an adjec- 
tive. For happiness, as I tried to show in the last chapter 8 is 
not, strictly speaking, a state of consciousness at all. It 
is an adjective of quality of states of consciousness as tone 
is a quality of a sound, or colour of an object. Some states 
of consciousness possess a pleasant hedonic tone; others an 
unpleasant one. The quality of the hedonic tone of a state 
of consciousness will be largely determined by the nature 
of the object upon which it is directed. States of conscious- 
ness which are directed upon truth or beauty, or which 
achieve moral virtue, will have a pleasant hedonic tone; 
so, also, will those that result from the satisfaction of 
our impulses. The paradox of happiness is thus a double 
one; first, though it is itself a value, it eludes direct 
pursuit and occurs as a by-product of states of consciousness 
which are directed upon objects other than happiness. 
Secondly, no state of consciousness which does not contain 
some happiness, or which is not, as I should prefer to put 
it, pleasurably hedonically toned, can have value. 

Twofold Relation Between Moral Virtue and Right 
Actions. The value, moral virtue gives rise to certain 
complications. The first introduces a question at which we 
have already glanced, the relation between moral virtue 
and right action. Some writers on ethics have denied that 
there is any such relation. For example, in his book, Th* 
1 See Chapter XI, pp. 407-409. * See Chapter XI, pp. 410-419. 


Right and the Good, Dr. Ross affirms that "moral goodness 
is quite distinct from aod independent of lightness", his 
point being that the value, which I am calling moral virtue, 
and what the utilitarians call a right action are two different 
kinds of ethical fact between which there need be no con- 
nection. It is difficult to accept this view. Although I 
^tq maintaining that moral virtue is -a form of value, and 
that, as such, it is in the last resort unanalysable, the con- 
ception of moral virtue includes, it is obvious, a willingness* 
to do one's duty. And to do one's duty is to do what one 
conceives to be right. As Professor Moore, to whose views 
I have already referred, puts it in his Principia Ethica, "a 
virtue is a habitual disposition to perform actions which 
are duties or which would be duties, if a volition were 
sufficient on the part of most men to ensure their perform- 
ance". In other words, moral virtue is a disposition to 
perform those actions which are deemed to be right, and 
which it falls within the competence of most men to 

If this is agreed to, the following complication arises: 
a right action I have defined as one which produces the 
best consequences on the whole; the best consequences are 
those which contain or promote the greatest quantity of 
those things which are valuable in themselves, namely, 
beauty, truth, happiness and moral virtue. The actions 
which a morally virtuous man conceives to be right, and 
endeavours, accordingly, to perform, will sometimes, 
although not always, coincide with those which actually 
art right in the sense just defined. We reach, then, the 
position that the morally virtuous man will wish to act 
in such a way as to promote, among other things, an 
increase of moral virtue. This result has a circular appear- 
anace, but the circle is not, I think, vicious. There is no 
paradox in conceiving of the good man as one who wishes 
to increase the amount of goodness in the world, and it is 
a commonplace that he does in fact increase it That the 
way to make people trustworthy is to trust them, lovable to 
love them, conscientious to rely upon them all the great 


moralists and religions teachers have agreed. Thus moral 
virtue is not only valuable in itself, but possesses also an 
instrumental value in the sense that it tends by its very 
nature to promote a general increase in the manifesta- 
tion of values in the world, and to promote, therefore, an 
increase in the manifestation of the particular value which 
is moral virtue. 

Moral virtue is, I think, the only value which has this 
instrumental characteristic. Beauty does not itself increase 
or create beauty, nor does truth increase truth; happiness 
in oneself does no doubt conduce to happiness in others, 
but the fact that it does sp seems to be accidental and not, 
as in the case of moral virtue, an expression of the nature 
of the value. 

The Distinction between Right Action and What is 
Thought to Be Right Action. The relation between 
moral virtue and right action raises, however, a further 
complication, and one which gives rise to some of the 
most difficult problems of ethics. The morally virtuous 
man, we have agreed, will try to the best of his ability 
to do his duty; he will try, that is to say, to do what 
he believes to be right. But what he believes to be 
right may differ from what is in fact right, and it 
may be the fact of this difference which has led such 
writers as Dr. Ross to conclude that there is no necessary 
connection between moral virtue and right action. The 
complication arising from the difference must now be 

The morally virtuous man is actuated by a certain sort 
of motive. Now motives, as I have tried to show 1 , cannot 
be divorced from the consequences which the actions 
prompted by thp motive are intended to produce. It 
may, however, be the case (i) that the consequences 
which do in fact follow from the morally virtuous man's 
actions may, owing to his faulty judgment, be habitually 
different from those which he intends, and (2) that, though 
1 See Chapter VIII, pp. 289-293. 


the consequences . which he intends may in fact follow, 
they may be other than the best consequences, in the 
sense in which I have defined the word "best", owing to 
his mistakes in valuation. In the first case, the morally 
virtuous man, the man who wants to do his duty, will want 
to produce the best possible consequences by his actions, 
but will make mistakes about how to produce them; his 
error in fact will be one of calculation. In the second, he 
will not make mistakes about how to produce what he 
wants to produce, but he will make mistakes about what 
he ought to produce; his error will, that is to say, be one of 
valuation. The first case is the man of good intentions who 
lacks foresight; the second, that of the man of good inten- 
tions who lacks insight. 

That Moral Virtue includes the Duty of Improving 
the Practical Judgment With the first case I have 
already dealt. 1 It is a man's duty, I have suggested, to 
take such steps as are possible to find out what the effects 
of his actions are likely to be. Patience and care, for 
example, are required in the collection of adequate data, 
and good judgment for the making of accurate estimates 
on the basis of the data. The duty of good judgment 
requires us to include in the concept of moral virtue an 
intellectual factor. The question arises whether, in respect 
of the possession or lack of this intellectual factor, a man is 
free. The answer involves questions already discussed in 
the chapter on free will. A good native intelligence, like 
a good eye at games or a good sense of perspective, cer- 
tainly seems at first sight to form part o&our natural 
endowment; but 90, it may be said, does a strong will, 
passions that are easily controllable, and an indifference 
to the cruder temptations. Is it ever the case, I asked in 
Chapter VII, that a man can escape complete determina- 
tion by his native endowment? Can he ever take moral 
credit for the strength of his controlling will, or incur 
moral blame for the strength of his uncontrolled passion? 
1 Scc Chapter IX, pp. 316-320. 


I concluded 1 that such an escape from complete determina- 
tion was possible, provided that we were prepared to agree 
that there was an element of reason in willing, and that 
impulse and desire are not the sole springs of our actions. 
If reason includes a conativc element, so that it is by 
virtue of our reason that we are free to will to act rightly 
in spite of the solicitations of passion and impulse, then it 
is also by virtue of our reason that we are free to will to 
reason better. If, in other words, we are free to do our duty, 
we are free also to use our reasons to find out what our 
duty is. -And just as the will may be strengthened by 
process of freely willing, so the reason may be strengthened 
by process of freely reasoning, so that a man can improve 
his power of judgment no less than his strength of willing. 
To put the point more concretely, I may throughout my 
life use a good native intelligence in the investigation of 
purely abstract subjects and refuse to apply it to the prob- 
lems of conduct, in which case I shall have given myself 
no practice in accurately judging the results of my actions. 
I may even deliberately abstain from .acquiring the 
necessary practice. And the point which I am making is, 
first, that it is my duty to apply my reason to the problems 
of conduct and, secondly, that I am free to will to do 
my duty in this respect as in others, provided that it is 
admitted that the will contains a rational element. 

Summary. The foregoing argument is complex and 
a summary of its conclusions may be useful. The second 
of what I have elsewhere called the two main problems 
of ethics, the problem of finding out what our duty is, 
turns out on analysis to be the problem of correctly estimat- 
ing the probable consequences of our actions. This is a 
problem of rational calculation. The full conception of 
moral virtue entails, then, a certain element of accurate 
reasoning as well as the more obvious elements of strength of 
will and virtuous motive ; and it entails an element of accurate 
reasoning because we require to know what our duty is, 
1 Sec Chapter VII, pp. 967-971. 

464 " > ETHICS 

as well as to will the duty that we know. Furthermore, in 
regard to this requirement of discernment, no less than in 
regard to the requirement of willing, we are free; we are 
free, that is to say, within the conditions laid down in 
Chapter VII, to improve and perfect our natural endow- 
ment in the matter of intelligence no less than in that of 

That Moral Valuations are Relative to Social Need, 
Circumstance and Status. The second case, that of the 
man with good intentions who lacks insight has, it is 
obvious, important social implications. A man, I have 
suggested, may want to do what is right; he may also 
possess good judgment and form an accurate estimate of 
the consequences of his actions. Yet the consequences he 
desires, intends to produce and does in fact produce, may 
not be such as are valuable. In other words, the actions 
which he thinks right may not be those which, according 
to the definition of lightness already given, are in fact right. 
Now it has been conceded to the subjectivists that what 
a man thinks right and what a man thinks valuable will 
depend very largely upon the standards of the community 
in which he happens to live. Most men, as the objective 
intuitionists point out, possess intuitions in regard to 
what is right and wrong which owe nothing to reflection, 
moral principles or estimates of consequences. As a conse- 
quence, they have in all ages judged certain things to be 
right, certain things to be wrong, without being able 
to give reasons for their judgments. Now what they 
judge right, what wrong, is almost always determined 
by the moral code of the community to which they happen 
to belong. On those occasions on which the plain man 
does consciously take consequences into account and seeks to 
justify his judgment of the rightness or wrongness of an 
action by appealing to them, his valuation of consequences 
will be no less dependent upon a moral standard which 
has been formed for him by his environment and not by 
him as a result of independent reflection. 


Much has been said in previous pages with regard to 
the variations in the deliverances of the moral sense in 
different communities. The conclusion was reached that 
these variations were not purely arbitrary, but stood in 
a specific relation to the needs of the society to which the 
individual happened to belong. 1 And not only to the needs 
and circumstances of his society but also to those of his class 
within society. Thus the moral valuations of a slave will 
be different from those of a free man, and qualities of 
independence and leadership, which are valued in a 
member of the English public-school class, will tend to 
be condemned as upstart impudence and unprincipled 
ambition when they appear in the Communist worker, 
who devotes his energies and his talents to leading and 
organizing his fellows. Now, the needs of classes in a society 
vary. Hence, a certain course of action by a member of 
class X, which will seem right to another member of that 
class, will seem wrong to a member of class Y, but would 
have seemed right to him, if it had been taken by another 
member of class Y. In a word, moral valuations are relative 
to social need, circumstance and status. 

In most societies that have existed there has been a 
marked divergence between the conduct that men called 
right, and which a morally virtuous man felt it, therefore, 
to be his duty to do, and that which was in fact right. In 
other words, the conduct which a morally virtuous man has 
felt it to be his duty to do has often, has, in fact, usually, 
produced consequences which contained a smaller amount 
of absolute value than would have been contained in the 
consequences of other actions which it was open to the 
agent to do, but which he did not consider to be his duty. 

How is the Divergence between what is Thought Right 
and What is Right to be Adjusted? How is this divergence 
to be adjusted? How, in other words for this and nothing 
else is involved is a man to be induced to wish to do 
what is really right and to desire and to pursue what i#* 
* See Chapter VIII, pp. 301-303. 


really valuable? The question is the most fundamental 
question of ethics, and no satisfactory answer to it exists. 
Let us survey the materials that have been collected for 
an answer. 

I have suggested that value has the power of attracting 
man's consciousness and evoking the desire to pursue it. 
I have argued, in fact, with Socrates that all men naturally 
desire the Good, but I have admitted that they are also 
free, and that the power of good over them is far from 
amounting to compulsion. I have suggested also that evil 
is a real and positive factor in the universe, which clouds 
men's judgments, so that they mistake for good what is 
not, and weakens their will, so that they do not wish to 
do the good that they $ee. 

The thinkers of the Middle Ages, the moralists of the 
nineteenth century, pictured the soul of man as a battle- 
ground on which the forces of good and evil struggled for 
victory. Their conception seems to me to have been on the 
whole the correct one. It symbolizes the view that I have 
been trying to put forward, that value exists and that on 
the whole we wish to pursue it, but that some factor in the 
universe, which is also in ourselves, prevents us, or rather 
can prevent us, if we let it. Whether we shall let it prevent 
us or not, depends in the last resort upon ourselves. In 
this sense and to this extent we are free. Yet though in 
theory and in the last resort our choice of action is free, 
it is to a very large extent determined by our environment. 

The question of environment brings me back to the 
relation of a man's individual morals to those of his com- 
munity, and at this point I come to the borderline between 
ethics and political theory. In the light of the preceding 
survey three conclusions may be suggested. 

Formula for Progress in a Society. First, it is extremely 
difficult to be a good man in a bad community. Since the 
form of our moral judgments is determined by our environ* 
* ment, a member of a bad community will hold actions 
to be right which are not right, and judge consequences 


to be valuable which are not valuable. Admittedly, he 
may be morally virtuous to the extent that he may try 
to do the good that he sees, but, if his community is bad, 
he will lack that faculty of right valuation which enables 
him justly to appraise the value of the consequences of 
his actions. Moreover, actions which he might have 
expected to turn out well will turn out ill, because of the 
perverting effect of the environment in which they are 
performed. Secondly, communities change and, it may be, 
progress, and the moral insight of the individuals who 
compose them changes and progresses as the community 
changes. Such changes are almost always in the first 
instance due to the original genius of some one or more 
individuals whose insight into the nature of value is keener 
than that of the rest of the community, 1 and who persist- 
ently advocate changes in the law and custom of the 
community which will lead to a greater embodiment of 
value in men's lives, and a clearer perception of it by 
men's consciousnesses. In due course the community as 
a whole moves, or may move up to the level bf the insight 
of its moral pioneers, laws and custom are changed, and 
a gain in morality is thereby achieved. Thus the morals of 
the Old Testament become the morals of the New, the 
Christian condemnation of slavery is accepted among 
civilized peoples, with the result that slavery is 
abolished, while, prior to the war of 1914-1918, there was 
an increasing realization that individuals should be treated 
as ends and not merely as means. But the process whereby 
the moral insight of a community advances is not a 
necessary one, and it may be interrupted or reversed. 

Thirdly, an ideal community may be defined as one in 
which everybody wishes to do what he thinks right, and 
everybody thinks right what is in fact right; it is, in other 
words, a community in which the actions which people 
think right and habitually try to do are those which 
produce the best consequences, namely, those which 
contain and embody the greatest amounts of the values 
Scc Chapter VIII, pp. 308-310. 


beauty, truth, moral virtue and happiness. In so far as 
the members of one community approximate more closely 
to this ideal in their desires, willings and valuations than 
those of another, that community is the better of the two. 
Our survey of ethics thus enables us to suggest a formula 
for political progress, according to which the best com* 
xnunities are those whose citizens habitually judge and 
act in such a way as to bring about an increase in 'the 
manifestation of absolute values in the community. I 
now turn to the political questions which will occupy us 
in Part III. 


The views expressed in this chapter are to a large extent the 
author's. Works from which some of the conclusions readied 
in the Chapter have been derived are: 
(PLATO. The Mcno; The Republic. 
MOORE, G. E. Principia Ethica. 
DICKINSON, G. LOWES. The Meaning of Good. 
rttossBLL, BERTRAND. Philosophical Essays, especially the essay 

entitled The Elements of Ethics. 

HARTIIANN, N. Ethics, especially Volume III, contains a full 
and comprehensive statement of a theory of value more 
particularly in its application to Ethics. 





Introductory Note. In Part III I propose to con- 
sider theories of the nature of the State and of the relation 
between the State and the individual. Some of these 
theories are concerned with the question of fact, others 
with the question "ought". Theories of the first class ask, 
"What is the nature of political organizations"? Theories 
of the second, "What ought it to be"? 

It is possible and also desirable to treat logic and meta- 
physics without reference to time and circumstance. 
The laws of logic, to take an extreme case, are not affected 
by the circumstances of the period and place in which they 
are apprehended and discussed. In the case of ethics the 
divorce between theory and circumstance is not so marked, 
and in my treatment of ethical theories in Part II, I 
have found it necessary on occasion to* introduce a refer- 
ence to the historical conditions in which the theories 
were put forward. Many would hold that these references 
should have been more frequent than I have made them. 

When, however, we come to theories of politics, it is 
no longer possible to maintain a separation between theory 
and circumstance. Topical considerations insist on intrud- 
ing themselves, for the reason that topical considerations 
both set the questions with which political theorists con- 
cern themselves, and suggest the lines of the answers. 
Hence views such as, for example, that which Hobbes 
expresses on the impossibility of revolt 1 , which strike us as 
being both illogical and fantastic, become at least com- 
prehensible when they are seen in their historical setting. 
This is a book of philosophy and not of history; it is 


concerned with the exposition of ideas, not with the 
circumstances in which the ideas were put forward. I shall, 
therefore, reduce my references to time and place to the 
barest necessary minimum. It is, however, well to warn the 
reader at the outset that none of the theories which figure in 
the ensuing Part can be seriously regarded as making claims 
to absolute truth, or as being universally applicable at all 
times and places and in all circumstances. In this respect they 
differ from logical and metaphysical theories and also, to 
some extent, from the ethical theories considered in Part II. 

The Social Contract Theory. In the Introduction to 
Parts II and HI, I sought to show how the influence 
of Christianity had led to a separation between the 
studies of ethics and politics. If man in his true nature 
is an immortal soul, he is not in his true nature a partici- 
pating citizen; if his real purpose is to attain salvation in 
the next world, it is not to achieve the millcnium in this 
one. Man's membership of society being omitted from the 
account, when the true nature of man is being discussed, 
society tends to be explained as an artificial growth 
springing from a set of particular circumstances. What are 
the circumstances, and how did they come to generate 
society? The answer to these questions is to be found in a 
theory which obtained wide currency in the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries. This is known as the Social 
Contract theory. Advanced by a number of different 
thinkers, it was used to support a number of different con- 
clusions. Hobbes (1588-1679) invoked it in support of 
absolute monarchy; Locke (1632-1704), of representative 
democracy; Rousseau (1712-1778), of extreme democracy. 
Of these various forms of the Social Contract Theory and 
of the conceptions of society in which they issued, some 
account must now be given. 

Hobbes on the Social Contract I have already 1 

described in outline Hobbcs's egoistic psychology, a 

Scc Chapter X, pp. 


psychology which presupposes that self-interest is the only 
motive for conduct. I have also indicated the bearing of 
this psychology upon ethical theory; good, on Hobbes's 
view, becomes that which a man happens to desire, while 
virtue is success in maintaining and asserting the self. I 
mentioned also Spinoza's agreement with this egoistic 
psychology, and his distinctive view that all organisms 
strive to intensify their existence and to enhance the full- 
ness of their being, irrespective of the wishes or feelings 
of others. Finally, I indicated the support which a purely 
egoistic theory of ethics derives from the doctrine of 
evolution, which postulates the struggle for survival as the 
fundamental law of man's being. Psychological and ethical 
theories of this type will, it is obvious, have important 
political implications, and Hobbes's political theory shows 
us, perhaps more clearly than any other, what these 
implications are. 

A being guided only by self-interest will naturally prey 
upon his fellows in pursuit of his natural satisfactions. 
Hobbes, therefore, depicts the initial condition of man 
as that of a creature living in a state of nature conceived 
broadly on the lines laid down by Glaucon in the Republic.* 
In the state of nature men were, Hobbes holds, in constant 
conflict. Each man's hand was against his fellow's, and, 
since men are by nature equal, no man was weak enough 
not to be an object of fear to his neighbours, or strong 
enough to be immune from the fear which his neighbours 
inspired. In a state of nature so conceived, there was no 
property, law, justice or right, and the life of man, in 
Hobbes's classic phrase, was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish 
and short". To put an end to such an intolerable state 
of affairs, men formed society. Society was thus found 
to be necessary because of man's naturally egoistic and 
amoral disposition, and its purpose was to give him 

Hobbes also cites a further factor which plays its part 
in the establishment of society, a factor which derives 
1 Chapter I, pp. 20-22* 


from his solipsistic theory of knowledge. 1 Completely en- 
closed within the circle of his own states of mind, man 
is lonely and his loneliness drives him to congregate with 
his fellows in order that the possibilities of communication, 
which a common language affords, may provide him with 
a means of escape from himself. But man being what he 
is, a mere agreement to live peaceably together in society 
is not sufficient, since any man would break the. agree* 
ment when he saw a chance of doing so to his own 
advantage. There must, then, be "a common power to keep 
them in awe and to direct their actions to the common 
benefit". This "common power" is brought into being 
as the result of a compact by the terms of which every 
member of the community gives up his natural rights and 
powers to a man, or to a body of men, in whom the united 
power of all is henceforth vested. Each man, that is to 
say, gives up his own right of self-government on condition 
that every other man does the same. The repository of all 
these individual powers is conceived of as a new individual 
person endowed with supreme power. "He that carrieth 
this person," writes Hobbes, "is called sovereign and hath 
sovereign powers; and everyone besides, his subject." 

Consequences of Hobbes's Doctrine: Theory of Sover- 
eignty. Since men came into society in order to obtain 
security, and since the maintenance of the common power 
of the sovereign over them all is the condition of their 
security, the power of the sovereign may not be chal- 
lenged or modified. Revolt in a society is, therefore, to 
be regarded as impossible, not so much on practical, as 
on psychological grounds. For, so long as the sovereign is 
absolutely supreme, he is fulfilling the purpose which led 
men to vest their individual powers in him, the purpose, 
namely, of giving them security. Since our decisions are 
determined for us and not by us, and since the desire for 
security is a law of our being, we cannot, Hobbes main* 
tained, desire to do anything which will infringe the condi- 
1 See Chapter X, p. 353, for a reference to this. 


tion under which alone security can be guaranteed. We 
cannot, therefore, desire to revolt against the sovereign, or 
even to weaken his power. There is, then, no right, there 
is even, Hobbes seems to say, no possibility of disobedience. 
For, once again, men appoint a ruler that they may have 
security; in order that he may give them security, his 
authority must be unquestioned, and to question it is to 
negate the object with which society was constituted and 
a ruler appointed. 

To put the point in another way, the sovereign's right 
to rule derives from his ability to fulfil the conditions and to 
realize the purposes which led men to vest their powers 
in him. His right, in fact, resides in his might, and his might 
is the measure of his right. Thus the sovereign possesses 
what Hobbes, if he were to make use of ethical conceptions, 
might call a moral right to rule his subjects in so far as, 
and only in so far as, he has power to rule them. 

So long as his ability to give security persists, the sovereign 
is supreme; his subjects cannot modify his powers, or depose 
him and substitute another sovereign for that would be 
a breach cf the covenant upon which they have entered 
nor can they dissent from his decisions, nor refuse to obey 
his edicts for that would be to put themselves outside the 
community and the reign of law which the community 
establishes, and back into the state of nature, in which 
anybody would have the right to destroy them. On the 
other hand, the ruler cannot himself forfeit or abuse his 
powers, since he himself is outside the covenant which 
brought him into being and there is, therefore, no covenant 
for him to break. 

Since the community exists in and through the power 
which has been vested in the sovereign, the sovereign is 
both its representative and its agent. All the acts which the 
community does, or which any member of the community 
does, are his acts, and vice versa. "A commonwealth," writes 
Hobbes, "is said to be instituted when a multitude of men 
do agree, and covenant, every one with every one, that to what- 
soever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major 


part, the right to present the person of them all, that is to 
say, to be their representative; everyone, as well he that 
voted for ft, as he that voted against it, shall authorize all the 
actions and judgments of that man, or assembly of men, 
in the same manner as if they were his own/' 

It follows that all the acts of the sovereign are such as 
members of the community must approve of and consent 
to. Even if he puts a member of the community to death 
he is, according to Hobbes, expressing and carrying out 
that member's own will to be put to death. For example, 
Hobbes writes, "If he that attempteth to depose his 
sovereign be killed, or punished by him for such attempt, 
he is author of his own punishment, as being by the institu- 
tion, author of all his sovereign shall do/ 9 Since by virtue 
of the contract which results in the formation of society 
and the conferment upon the sovereign of absolute powers, 
the sovereign's acts are authorized beforehand, he cannot 
act unjustly or illegally. He is, therefore, above the law, 
irresponsible and unpunishable. 

Powers and Functions of the Sovereign. The sove- 
reign being the community's agent has supreme power in 
the matter of war and peace. He is the sole judge of the 
measures necessary for the community's defence, the sole 
arbiter of rewards and punishments, die sole appointer of 
ministers and judges. He also is alone responsible for 
determining what opinions shall be taught in the com- 
munity, how its members shall be educated, and by what 
laws its people shall be governed. The sovereign may 
delegate some or all of these rights, but he cannot dis- 
possess himself of them without breaking the covenant 
upon which society rests, and this, as we have seen, is 
the one thing which he cannot do* Fo